Italian Word of the Day: Azzurro (blue)

The Italian word for blue is very simple: just chop off the e at the end of the English word and you end up with blu, which is the generic term for any shade of colour between green and violet.

IPA: [blu]

From there, you can choose between many variants to describe the colour with more precision:

  • blu chiaro = light blue
  • blu scuro = dark blue
  • blu metalizzato = blue metallic
  • blu opaco = blue opaque
  • blu elettrico = electric blue
  • blu marino = marine blue

Oggi Daniele ha voluto vestirsi di blu.

Today Daniele wanted to wear blue.

In the figurative sense, blue can refer to a fear or a big scare.

Pietro ha una fifa blu dei ragni.

Pietro has a fear of spiders.

But there is another word for blue that is very popular in Italy, and that is azzurro.

IPA: /adˈ

You’ll often find it translated as light blue, but what light blue means can vary from person to person, or even country to country.

Azzurro refers to a precise type of blue which is the colour of the sky on a bright sunny day (celestial blue).

Il cielo azzurro (the blue sky)

The Treccani encyclopedia says that azzurro has a wavelength between 490 and 455nm. However the way Italians use azzurro is not as precise as this. It symbolises a bright vivid blue, and people will often call objects azzurro that in reality are a different shade of blue. Basically, any blue tint that reminds you of the sunny blue sky can be called azzurro.

Una giacca azzurra (a blue jacket)
Una camicia azzurra (a blue shirt)

The shirt above might be a bit of a stretch, but we can still consider it a valid example of azzurro. One reason for this is that the official colour of Italian sport teams is azzurro, and over the years they have worn many different shades of blue: sometimes darker (azzurro scuro), sometimes lighter (azzurro chiaro).

Regardless of the precise tint, Italians call their teams azzurri (blues) and their athletes azzurro / azzurra, so the perception of what azzurro is has widened as a result.

Questa sera gli azzurri scendono in campo contro il Brasile.

Tonight the Italian team will go against Brasil.

La tennista azzurra è approdata in semifinale.

The Italian tennis player has reached the semifinal.

There is a limit however. The two examples below show a blue that is either too light or too dark to be called azzurro.

Too dark to be azzurro
Too light to be azzurro

Azzurro is often preferred to blu when describing things and can have various symbolic meanings:

  • nastro azzurro = blue ribbon, also an Italian beer brand
  • principe azzurro = the prince from fairy tales who saves the princess (sangue blue / azzurro also refers to a person with noble blood)
  • popolo azzurro = Italian people

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