14 Bright And Beautiful Words For The Color Yellow

Yellow is kind of a big deal. It’s the color of New York City taxis and iconic ’90s smiley faces. The band Coldplay even wrote an entire song called “Yellow.” Songwriting isn’t really our thing, so we made a word list for you instead.

Yellow is a complex, many-hued category of colors, and there are so many expressive and surprising words you can use to describe each shade. Rather than reverting to simply yellow, pale yellow, or bright yellow, we thought we’d offer a few better options. How about nankeen? Or, maybe saffron is more your speed? Whether you’re looking for vivid color words to use in your manuscript or trying to describe exactly what shade of paint you want when you redesign your bathroom, here are 14 different synonyms to describe your perfect shade of yellow.


Saffron is “a yellowish-orange color” that shares a name with the popular spice made from dried Crocus sativas. The color of saffron yellow is a warm, almost mustard hue of yellow that could be used to talk about the particular fiery yellow of a sunset or the rolling saffron hills during a summer in the countryside. Saffron was first recorded in English in the late 1100s. It derives from zaʿfarān, the Arabic word for saffron.


This shade of yellow comes to us from the tan family. Tawny means “a shade of brown tinged with yellow; dull yellowish brown.” It has been in use in English since at least 1350, it can be traced to the Middle French tané, a past participle of taner, or “to tan.” Tawny is used for things that have a dull yellow mixed with plenty of brown or tan, such as a tawny owl or the tawny crust of a fresh loaf of bread.


Lemon has been used to describe a certain shade of yellow since at least 1800. In fact, lemon is probably one of the first words that comes to mind when you think of the color yellow. Lemon yellow is “a clear, yellowish-green color,” much like the color of the fruit itself. Of course, lemons aren’t the only examples of lemon yellow. You could also use this one to talk about everything from sunflowers to taxis.


Looking for something in more of a greenish shade? Then check out these words for the color green.


You may have seen the word flaxen used in fairytales to describe the heroine’s flaxen hair. Flaxen means “of the pale yellowish color of dressed flax.” Flax, in case you were wondering, is “a slender, erect, annual plant having narrow, lance-shaped leaves and blue flowers, cultivated for its fiber and seeds.” Flaxen is used to describe very pale, fair shades of yellow, which makes it an ideal choice for writers describing hair or clothing. It has been in use in English since the early 1500s.


Something else those European fairy tales have in common? The name Jack. Find out why “Jack” appears in so many stories and nursery rhymes.


You’re likely familiar with amber as fossilized tree resin. When we use amber to describe colors, that’s the color we’re talking about as well. Amber is defined as “the yellowish-brown color of resin.” Think of the warm, honey yellow of amber jewelry, maple syrup, or even the golden amber sphere encasing a mosquito in Jurassic Park. Amber was first recorded in English in the late 1300s.


Which word means “yellow” but also has the potential to make you sound even smarter than you already are? The answer is xanthous. English speakers borrowed xanthous from the Greek ​​xanthós, which also means “yellow.”  Originally, the term was used when talking about the yellow of light blond hair or a fair complexion. It has been in use in English since at least the 1820s.


Ocher, pronounced [ oh-ker ], isn’t only one color of yellow. It actually describes a range of colors of earthy pigments, “from pale yellow to orangish or reddish yellow.” It’s the yellow of certain spices, like turmeric, or the earthy, golden hue of sand. The first usage of ocher in English occurred in the mid to late 1300s, and it can be traced all the way back to the Greek ṓchrā, or “yellow.”


You might see this particular shade of yellow on a stroll through the garden. Primrose is a “pale yellow” named for the primrose flower family. The word comes from Medieval Latin prīma rosa, or “first rose,” and was first recorded in English in the late 1300s. Despite its pale hue, primrose has shades of white and bright yellow that make it the perfect word for describing light yellow fabrics, paints, or even the sky at first light.


Millennials will recognize canary yellow as the color of Tweety Bird. Others will know this color from some of the less famous canaries in the world. Canary yellow is a “light, clear shade of yellow” like the color of yellow daisies. The word canary was first used to refer to colors as early as 1818.


If this color evokes sweetness for you, try using one of these sweet synonyms instead.


This shade of yellow takes its name from a gemstone. It’s a variety of quartz, to be exact. A citrine yellow is “pale-yellow; lemon-colored.” In some cases, it may have a translucent quality, like that of a gemstone. You might use citrine to talk about the pale sunlight streaming through the window following a storm or even, perhaps, a cool glass of lemonade. Citrine is related to citrus, from the Latin citrus, which means “citron tree,” a tree with lemon-like fruit.


If you’ve ever driven down a midwestern highway and seen goldenrod lining the sides of the road, you’ll know why this color made our list. Goldenrod is “a strong to vivid yellow,” like the flowers that bloom on the plants of the same name. You might use this one to describe the yellow of a bumblebee or your favorite cozy, yellow sweater. The first recorded use of the word took place in the late 1500s.


Fallow is a “pale-yellow or light-brown” color that you might see on fading leaves in the fall. It has warm tan and brown undertones that make it a perfect descriptor for things in nature. The word fallow also has a long history in English. It has been in use since before the year 1000, and it derives from the Old English fealu, or “yellow tending toward red, brown or gray.”


Learn more about the enchanting season of fall.


As you’ve probably noticed by now, many of the words we use to describe shades of yellow come from plants and flowers. Marigold is no exception. The term describes a warm, cheerful and golden yellow that mimics “several chiefly golden-flowered composite plants.” Originally called Mary’s Gold, marigold was named for the Virgin Mary, and was first recorded in English in the 1300s.


Nankeen is “a yellow or buff color” named for the shade of a durable cotton fabric that originated in Nanking, China. The word has been in use in English since at least the 18th century, and it’s a synonym for yellow that many people probably haven’t heard before. You might use nankeen to describe someone’s khaki clothing or to describe the brownish yellow hue of a desert landscape in your latest piece of fiction writing.

Take our yellow word quiz

Are you an expert on the different shades of yellow now? Save our word list to keep studying these terms using convenient flashcards, spelling tests, and more. When you’re ready, see if you can ace our free quiz on synonyms for the color yellow. Don’t forget to brag about your score on social media!


Embellish your language with even more color: learn some fiery alternatives for red.

Click to read more