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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.


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!

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