While studying Japanese I've met some problems with distinguishing some vocabulary.

For example we have:

  • 赤{あか} = Red (color)
  • 赤{あか}い = Red (adjective)

But what about 赤色{あかいろ}? Is there a difference between that and 赤{あか}?

Is the former just there in order to study the Kanji, or are there differences in usage (and maybe "acception") between the two?

I suspect it's the second, but it would be nice to have a good explanation about it.

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    Yes, I am a native speaker. Native speakers tend to be able to tell correct/natural expressions from incorrect/unnatural expressions, but that does not mean that they can explain why. Commented Oct 9, 2011 at 11:24
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    I guess that you know this, but just in case: if you think that high-rep users have no trouble answering questions, then sorry but you are wrong. I often go through a lot of trouble writing an answer, and I cannot do that every time. Commented Oct 9, 2011 at 11:35
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    One example that the two words are not interchangeable is 赤 can refer to a political tendency while 赤色 does not have this usage. I doubt that this is the only difference, though I cannot think of other differences right now. Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 19:45
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    @TsuyoshiIto 赤色 does have the political usage as in 赤色テロル. However, and 赤色 are not usually interchagable in compounds.
    – user458
    Commented Oct 15, 2011 at 2:15
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    Is it comparable to the difference in English between say "red" and "red colour", both of which are idiomatic English that would be used in different circumstances? Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 15:34

2 Answers 2

  1. I think the same difference applies in English i.e. "red" versus "red colour".

    "red colour" forces you to perceive it as a colour, while "red" has no such limitation.

    This means "red" can be used symbolically to represent other things. (Much like how "white" is to "purity", and "green" is to "environment" etc.)

    This means 赤{あか} and 赤{あか}い can be used symbolically, while 赤{あか}色{いろ} forces you to perceive a colour (less likely to be perceived symbolically).

  2. From a grammar standpoint,

    • 赤{あか}月{つき}(red moon) is a noun on its own.

    • 赤{あか}い月{つき} is the noun 月{つき} modified by the adjective 赤{あか}い.

    • 赤色{あかいろ}の月{つき} is the noun 月{つき} modified by the noun 赤色{あかいろ} via the genitive case1 particle `の

    Semantically I see no difference.

  3. This is my conjecture: Using "red" means that the object is being inherently red or has "red" as an intrinsic quality; and "red colour" implying that the object is not inherently red or does not have "red" as an intrinsic quality.

    EDIT: There are compound nouns that are of the form 赤~ such as:

    赤{あか}狼{おおかみ} - Red wolf

    赤{あか}蕪{かぶ} - Red turnip

    赤{あか}狩{が}り - Communist hunting, red-baiting (Harassment or persecution (of someone) on account of known or suspected communist sympathies.)

    This leads me to conjecture that things that are inherently red in colour or are closely associated with the colour red or the concept of "red" (see point 1.) can have compound nouns that are formed by 赤+[noun] (First bullet of point 2.) And things that are not take on the 赤い+[noun] structure (Second bullet of point 2.).

    Also consider why "Red carpet" takes on the 赤い+[noun] construction: 赤いじゅうたん even though it feels like a complete noun on its own. Carpets do not have to be inherently red, the colour is incidental.

    So this leads me to conclude that if the colour (or its related symbolic concept) can be incidental, 赤い+[noun] is used. If it is not incidental then it is quite likely that 赤+[noun] will be an acceptable word.

1: Genitive Case: It is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another noun. A genitive construction involves two nouns - the head (modified) noun and the modifier noun. The modifier noun modifies the head noun by expressing some property of it.

  • Could you please include furigana?
    – Alenanno
    Commented Oct 14, 2011 at 17:28
  • @DaveMG I don't think I can put it any more succintly without the use of the term. The sentence would still make sense if I just said "the particle の" and left out the words "genitive case". The use of the term does not serve to confuse, it describes the role of の specifically. I will edit to make my answer user-friendlier in a moment.
    – Flaw
    Commented Oct 15, 2011 at 9:03
  • @DaveMG The genitive case (it's a grammatical case, like nominative, dative, etc.) usually indicates the "belonging" to someone (also other things, depending on the language); in English, for example, "Ivan's car", where <'s> indicates the belonging, and Ivan is in the genitive case. In Russian it's more explicit: the same sentence would be "Машина Ивана", where the original "Иван" (Ivan) turns into the genitive case "Ивана" (Ivan-a). I don't know if I explained it well. :D
    – Alenanno
    Commented Oct 15, 2011 at 9:38
  • @DaveMG I understand. But since I could provide an explanation on that, I did (although I know it wasn't the info you actually wanted to know). :) I'm not sure I could give a good explanation on Japanese yet.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Oct 15, 2011 at 14:08
  • @DaveMG point 2. cannot be explained "about the Japanese". This is because point 2. was intended to be discussed from the perspective of "difference in grammatical construction". I guess if it was "about the Japanese" then I've addressed that point by saying that they're semantically equivalent.
    – Flaw
    Commented Oct 15, 2011 at 15:11

赤 and 赤色 are both the same. When you start using the first, then other color will be without 色, in conversation with your friends. If you use the second one, then your friend will or may use 色, with other color as well.

But it does not matter in general conversation.  

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