Italian Word of the Day: Rosso (red)

The Italian word for the colour red is rosso. It comes from the Latin russus of the same meaning.


Because it is an adjective, the ending changes in accordance with the gender and/or plurality of the subject. For example:

  • un cappello rosso = a red hat
  • una gonna rossa = a red skirt
  • cappelli rossi = red hats
  • gonne rosse = red skirts

Important: The pronunciation of the feminine form rossa mustn’t be confused with another colour, rosa, which means pink or rose. The single ‘s‘ in rosa is pronounced as if it were a ‘z‘.

Le regalò una rosa rossa per San Valentino.

He gave her a red rose for Valentine’s Day.

red rose on a wooden table
Una rosa rossa = a red rose

The word rosso is often used in a figurative sense to indicate things that are a) reddish in colour or b) associated with danger. A few good examples include:

  • semaforo rosso = red traffic light >> can be abbreviated to just rosso as in the phrase passare col rosso (to jump a red light)
  • a luci rosse = pornographic >> the red-light district is called quartiere a luci rosse in Italian, a reference to the red neon lights that highlight the windows where the women work
  • rosso d’uovo = yolk >> can be abbreviated to just rosso, also known as tuorlo d’uovo
  • vino rosso = red wine >> can be abbreviated to just rosso as in the phrase bere un bicchiere di rosso (to drink a glass of red wine)
  • pizza rossa / pasta rossa = pizza or pasta with tomato sauce
  • rosso = Communist / Red >> for example, armata rossa refers to the army of the Soviet Union
  • essere in rosso = to be in the red, to be in debt

Nel quartiere a luci rosse, un signore, alla guida di una Testarossa, è passato con il rosso dopo aver bevuto troppi bicchieri di rosso.

In the red-light district, a gentleman, driving a Ferrari Testarossa, jumped a red light after drinking too much red wine.

Red traffic light for pedestrians on the street
Non passare col rosso o causerai un incidente! – Don’t jump the red light or you’ll cause an accident!

Whereas people with red hair are called red-heads in English, Italians simply say rosso (for a man) and rossa (for a woman). Note that there is also another adjective for this: fulvo / fulva.

When talking about someone who is blushing (diventare rosso) due to embarrassment or shyness, you can use any of the following comparative idioms to describe their appearance:

  • rosso come un pomodoro = as red as a tomato (may also refer more generically to someone with a red face)
  • rosso come un peperone = as red as a bell pepper (may also refer to burnt skin or a red nose resulting from a cold)
  • rosso come il fuoco = as red as fire (may also refer to burnt skin, beautiful lips / cheeks, or a feverish complexion)
  • rosso come un gambero = as red as a shrimp (may also refer to burnt skin or a person’s ruddy appearance after physical exertion)
  • rosso come un papavero = as red as a poppy

Non appena la vide, diventò rosso come un papavero.

As soon as he saw her, he went as red as a poppy.

If you say that someone has a red nose (naso rosso), the implication is that they are cold, or have had too much to drink.

If you catch too much sun, you can say that you have le spalle rosse (red shoulders) or la schiena rossa (red back) for example.

Some etymologically related terms include:

  • rossiccio = ruddy, reddish
  • rossetto = lipstick
  • rossore = redness, blushing, flushing
  • rossastro = reddish
  • rosseggiare = to redden, to become red
Beautiful Blonde Woman Looking Into The Mirror At Herself And Applying Red Lipstick.
Qual è il rossetto migliore per la pelle chiara? = What’s the best red lipstick for fair skin?

Did you know that…?

In Italian, Rossi is by far the most common surname, so the name Sig. Rossi is often used in sample business letters, school textbooks and so on as a placeholder name (much like Mr. Smith or John Doe in English) for a generic Italian man. In fact, there is even an Italian cartoon called Signor Rossi, created by Bruno Bozzetto, whose eponymous protagonist is called as such because he could literally represent anyone (watch an episode below).

Did you know that…?

A famous European fairytale that has been translated into many languages is Cappuccetto Rosso (Little Red Riding Hood). Interestingly, its origins can be traced back to several 10th century European folk tales, including one from Italy called La Finta Nonna (The False Grandmother). In this version of the tale, the girl goes to visit her nonna but in her place she finds an orchessa (female ogre). The child realises that the ogre isn’t her grandmother, so she tricks her into leaving the house and makes her fall into a river.

Back of woman wearing red coat with red hood in a forest of snowy trees
Una giacca invernale rossa con cappuccio = A red winter coat with a hood

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