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foncé vs sombre

I was mixing these two words as they both mean "dark". This is what I've found on internet about use of them, hope this will be useful for others.

"Foncé" is only used for colours, while "sombre" works in any context (including colours, so "une couleur foncée" or "une couleur sombre" mean almost the same. However, if you speak of a specific colour, you must use "foncé", so "du bleu foncé").

"Sombre" can also be used for "not enough light", for example "Lorsque le soleil se couche, il commence à faire sombre."

In the figurative sense, it means something like "sad and grave". "Le 11 septembre est un jour sombre dans l'Histoire des États-Unis."

Please feel free to comment and add more explanations and examples.

April 16, 2018



I would add : a "couleur foncée " doesn't mean it's necessarily "sombre" . Imagine a dark yellow , it means it's darker than the light colour (light yellow) but I wouldn't say that a room painted in dark yellow is dark (sombre) . It depends on the colour : grey, blue brown...would be "sombres" , but yellow, pink, purple....would only be dark colours (darker than the light ones) but not "sombres" . ..... I hope I'm not confusing you ..? ;)


Tout est dans la nuance...


I've seen bière foncée in some sentences, that's not exactly a color but they use the word foncée, why is that?


The colour of some beverages depends of the amount of alcohol in them. The more they contain alcohol , the darker is the colour . I never drink beer so I'm not a specialist but I know "bière blonde" and "bière brune" so "bière foncée" would have more alcohol than others.


clarity of beer and alcohol content are not related. Guiness is a dark beer that has less alcohol than most blonde beers. fyi


The color of a beer depends on the barley used in it : dark roasted barley will produce a dark beer, such as the Guinness, a clear barley will produce a clear white/golden beer. Regarding stronger alcohols such as Calvados, the maturation time in oak casks will influence the final color (and taste, of course) of the beverage. for example for 4 years of maturation will produce a golden color, while 20 or more will produce a darker alcohol due to the tannins that are naturally present in oak wood. However, in this case, the alcohol level will always remain around 40% no matter how long the beverage will maturate. The only way to increase the alcohol level is to pour sugar in an alcoholic solution. With time, sugar will change into alcohol.


Thanks for the explanation. . I remember the cider I used to drink doesn't have the same color if it's "cidre doux" or "cidre brut" So what I said is not true for every beverages !


Yes, but in this case, "doux" (sweet) and "brut" (strong) refer to the alcohol level, not the colour. Sweet cider has a alcohol level of 2.5/3% while strong cider is around 4.5/5%, like beer.


Yes, but doesn't the colour of cider differ whit the amount of alcohol ? I used to drink cider more regularly than today but it's what I remember ... I can't go to the supermarket to chekt it out, the colour of the bottles are often too dark .... (!)


Thanks, I didn't know that.


Thanks for such a clear explanation about these words!


"Foncé" and "sombre" can be synonymous when it comes to describing colors (dark).

However, "sombre" has other meanings, especially figurative, that "foncé" does not have.

  • Une humeur sombre = a gloomy mood.
  • Une sombre histoire = a murky story.
  • Un avenir sombre = a grim/dark future.


Excellente explication


I just started on colors. Thanks!


I have seen rouge sombre used in texts to describe the darker shades of red such as maroon and burgundy. Also in reference to the colour of some red wines.

Examples from internet:

[...] séchée varie du rouge sombre au brun ou presque noir. 

[...] la belle robe rouge sombre à reflets grenats[...] 

La très belle couleur rouge sombre intense laisse présager [...]

[...] un fruit aigre rouge sombre propre à la transformation [...]

[...] volcaniques, les constructions humaines creusées dans les rochers se lient avec les couleurs du paysage allant du vert clair au gris ou du rouge sombre au doré. 

[...] collègues à pieds: un rouge sombre pour leur cotte 

Les formes d'un rouge sombre symbolisent l'émergence [...] 

Les téliospores sont d'un rouge sombre àcuivreux, marron mat ou[...] 

[...] aujourdhui, car le ciel est dun rouge sombre. 

[...] apparente varie du rouge sombre, rouge, orange, blanc"


Thanks, this has been confusing me!


Thank you!! I wish they'd explained this in the grammar part of the color section.

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