Wednesday, March 29, 2017

masshiro, makkuro, makka, massao 真っ白, 真っ黒, 真っ赤, 真っ青

In Japanese, masshiro 真っ白, makkuro 真っ黒, makka 真っ赤, and massao 真っ青 mean literally "true white," "true black," "true red," and "true blue." They're terms for strong, pure colors, but they're more commonly used with figurative meanings.


To begin with, let's talk about how the words are composed.

First, we have the prefix ma~ 真~. The meaning of the kanji is "true," like in the word shinjitsu 真実, "truth."

Next, at the end, we have terms for colors in Japanese. They are:

  • shiro

  • kuro

  • aka

  • ao


You may notice that when you combine the morphemes ma~ ま~ and shiro しろ, you don't get mashiro ましろ, but masshiro まっしろ instead, with a small tsu inserted in the middle.

Likewise, ma~ ま~ and aka あか turn into makka まっか, and not into maaka まあか as you'd expect. And for ao あお you get massao まっさお, not maao まあお.

These are changes of pronunciation that happen at morpheme boundary, also known as "sandhi," or ren'on 連音. They happen because it would be hard to pronounce the word otherwise. Sounds are added or changed so they become easier to pronounce.

The important thing to remember is that the word is massao, not "ma-ao."


All the color words prefixed with ma~ 真~ have the basic meaning of being purer, stronger, more vivid, more intense versions of their normal variants. Basically, if shiro 白 means "white," then masshiro 真っ白 means "very white," or "extremely white" and so on.

Besides that, there's also idiomatic usage.


The word masshiro 真っ白 means "very white," but can also mean "blank," specially in the sense of not having stains, not being cloudy, or not having anything written on it. Some examples include:

  • kami ga masshiro
    The paper is pure-white.
    The paper is blank. There's nothing written on it.
    • For example, you tried to print something on the paper, but instead of getting a paper with something printed on it, you got a pure white paper sheet.
  • {masshiro na} yuki
    Snow [that] {is pure-white}.
    Pure white snow.
    • Intensified color descriptions like this are often used poetically, to say something is beautiful because of how pure the color is.


The word masshiro can also mean "blank" in the sense of one's mind going "blank," of not thinking anything.

  • atama ga masshiro ni naru
    [My] head becomes pure-white.
    [My] head becomes blank.


The word makkuro 真っ黒 means "very black." In some cases, it can also refer to someone's dark, tanned skin.

  • makkuro na hitomi
    Pupils [that] {are pure-black}.
    Pitch-black pupils.


The word makka 真っ赤 means "very red." It often refers to someone's blushing, "red face," sekimen 赤面.

  • makka ni naru
    To become very-red.
    To blush intensely.
あはははは。 顔、真っ赤っかになってるよ! あははは。
Manga: Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san からかい上手の高木さん (Chapter 2, プール)
  • Context: Takagi 高木 sees the outcome of her teasing.
  • a-ha-ha-ha-ha.
  • kao, makka-kka ni
    natteru yo!

    [Your] face, [it]'s turned really red!
  • a-ha-ha-ha.
    *more laughs.*


The word massao 真っ青 means "very blue." It often refers to things that are beautifully blue, but it can also refer to someone's face if they look like they're feeling unwell.

  • massao na sora
    A pure-blue sky.
  • massao na umi
    A pure-blue sea.
  • kaoiro ga warui
    The color of [your] face is bad.
    You look unwell.
Kisaragi Amatsuyu 如月雨露, his face going blue with shock.
Character: Kisaragi Amatsuyu 如月雨露
Anime: Ore wo Suki nano wa Omae dake kayo 俺を好きなのはお前だけかよ (Episode 2)
  • Context: Amatsuyu's face going blue with shock as he sees his worst nightmare appear before him.

For reference, some other words starting with ma~ 真~.

  • makkura
    True darkness.
    Very dark.
    • kurai
  • mapputatsu
    True two.
    Used when splitting something "into two" parts.
    • futatsu
      Two [things].
  • massugu
    True direct.
    Refers to someone who is "sincere," direct with their thoughts.
    • sugu
  • mattou
    • {mattou na} shigoto
      A proper job.

See Also

  • do~ ド~
    Another prefix that emphasizes things.

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  1. I guess, "ma" exists with 4 color basically because it was only 4 colors in japanese for a long time. (明暗顕漠 system). Which were kuroi, shiroi, akai, and aoi (which was almost everything that was not black/white or red).