Capital or small? This is one of the most common spelling problems. In this article, you’ll learn not only how to capitalize or not capitalize colors, but also a few rules of thumb to make capitalization easier for you.
It’s spring at last: the air is fragrant, colorful flowers are blooming in the meadows, and everything is resplendent in white, yellow and green. Or in white, yellow and green? If you wonder the same thing every time you write about colors, you should read this article. I can encourage you: you are not alone. Many don’t know whether to capitalize or lowercase colors. It’s actually quite simple.
But I don’t just show you whether to capitalize colors or not. You’ll also learn how to use simple rules of thumb to figure out whether you need to capitalize a word or not. Here, one thing is very important: the part of speech. And with that we start now.
Capitalize or lowercase colors? It depends on the type of word!
Every word in a sentence has a specific function. You can easily answer the question of whether to capitalize a word or not if you know what its purpose is in the sentence. There are two possible word types for color words:
And we’ll look at those now. We start with the adjectives.
Adjectives: the pink flowers
In school, you probably learned about adjectives as "like" words. And that still fits. An adjective is supposed to describe what something is like. A few examples:
- On the trees are green branches.
(How are the branches? Green.)
- There are beautiful pink flowers everywhere.
(How are the flowers? Beautiful and pink.)
What you will surely notice: In each example the color words are written in small letters. And they always refer to a capitalized word, a so-called noun. In the examples, these are the branch, the leaves and the flowers.
But an adjective only works if it refers to at least one noun. Otherwise it makes no sense. Of course, this doesn’t mean that adjectives can’t stand on their own sometimes. Here’s an example:
- "What color is the branch?"
Here, the adjective "green" stands alone, but the statement still makes sense because the "green" refers to the branch in the question. But usually an adjective rarely comes alone.
Adjectives are always written in lower case. There are only a few exceptions where they can be capitalized. This is what you can do when they form a fixed term together with a noun. This is possible, for example, with the yellow jersey in the Tour de France or the red card in soccer. But even that is rather the exception. If they write color words small, which are an adjective, they are always on the right side.
With adjectives there is another special feature: You can also use adjectives as adverbs.
Adjectives as adverbs: The cherries blossom pink
You can also use adjectives differently, namely as adverbs. Then you don’t describe what a noun is like, but what an action, state, or process is like. With colors, for example, it looks like this:
- The cherry trees blossom pink.
- (How the cherry trees blossom? Pink.)
- (How do the branches shine? Yellow.)
Even then, the color words are always lowercase. And even then, they always need another word to refer to. In this case the verb is. Here they are: "blossom" and "shine".
If you’re wondering whether to capitalize colors or not, and you’re dealing with adjectives, there shouldn’t be any major problems. Experience shows that they usually start with the third word type: the nouns.
Nouns: The beautiful pink of flowers
A noun is a noun, the word that the sentence is about: it does something or something is done to it. You can also do this with colors:
- "I like the colors green, yellow and white."
- "The beautiful pink of the blossoms."
- "The branches blossom in green."
We will now take a closer look at these examples.
The first sentence is about which colors I like. So I write about the colors themselves. Therefore I have to capitalize it. If I would write the colors in lower case, this would not only be a spelling mistake. The whole sentence would no longer make sense:
I like the colors green, yellow and white.
If I were to write it like this, I would describe how I like colors, namely green, yellow and white. And that is of course nonsense. You cannot like a color green.
The second sentence is easy, because this one is about the color pink.
The third sentence is already more interesting, because here we are at a common spelling issue:
Which is correct: in green or in green?
This sentence is about what color the branches bloom in, namely green. But many would write now:
And this is wrong, at least since the spelling reform. Why is "in green" correct? Because here a word that is actually an adjective has been made into a noun. And once that happens, the new noun is treated like one, too: It is capitalized.
To make it easier for you to figure out if you’re dealing with a noun or not in the future, I’ll now show you how you can recognize a noun.
Recognizing nouns: Article
It doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with color words or anything else: You can always tell a noun by the article in front of it, i.e. "the," "the," or "that". A simple example:
The green of the branches is beautiful.
Here the article "the" stands before the noun "green. So "green" is clearly a noun: you capitalize it. This also applies if, theoretically, an article would fit in front of the word.
But this is only a hint by which you can recognize a noun. There are two more: adjectives and prepositions.
Recognize nouns: Adjectives
Sometimes there is an adjective between the article and the noun to describe the noun in more detail:
The lush green of the branches is beautiful.
Here the adjective "satte" is between "the" and "green.
And there we have a helpful rule of thumb that you can use to tell whether a word is a noun or not:
If an adjective fits in front of the word, it is a noun.
So, the next time you doubt whether to capitalize or not a word when writing, you can try putting an adjective or an article in front of it in your mind once. If this is possible, you are most likely dealing with a noun.
The next rule of thumb takes us back to the articles again. More precisely, to articles that are not there. And to another part of speech: prepositions.
Recognize nouns: Prepositions
Prepositions connect words and word groups together in a sentence. For example, a preposition is the word "in":
Here is capitalized after the preposition. But beware: this is not always the case, so this is not a rule, but a rule of thumb. Example:
I’ve had enough spelling for today.
In this case, "for" is the preposition. But the word after it, "today", is written in lower case. Why?
Because you can’t put an article in front of "today". because that would not make any sense:
I’ve had enough spelling for today.
A bit strange, don’t you think? The same applies to many other prepositions, by the way, an example:
For all it is better that I am not there.
If "all" had to be capitalized, then it should be possible and reasonable to put an article in front of it in thought:
For all of them it is better if I am not there.
But this is nonsense, because who or what are "the all"?
With "in green", it is possible to put an article before "green":
The branches bloom in the green.
Of course, this sounds a bit unwieldy, because we don’t normally speak like this, but this is just a thought experiment.
We can take the thought experiment a little further and try putting an adjective in front of "green" in our minds. And lo and behold, it works:
The branches bloom in rich green.
That makes sense. Let’s try this with the example of "all":
For the stupid all it is better if I am not there.
This doesn’t work, "the stupid all" doesn’t make sense. So it is not capitalized.
So it’s not that hard to figure out whether you’re dealing with a noun or not. All you have to do is try a little bit.
The noun check
So, next time you are unsure if you need to capitalize or lowercase any word including colors, you can try,
- if you put an article in front of the word and
- Whether you can put an adjective in front of the word.
In at least one of these two cases, the sentence must still make sense. In the very best case in both.
With these two rules of thumb, you can recognize many nouns and often correctly decide whether you need to capitalize or not. However, like any other rule of thumb, you will find exceptions here. Then, as always, the only thing that helps is a look in the dictionary.
And because it’s nicer to see colors than to write about them, I’ll now show you some trees and grasses in lush green: