Sign up ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I am looking to describe a flower such as the one in the following picture for a game:

Violet Flower

After showing the game to a number of beta testers, I noted that about half of them were fine with "violet" while the other half seemed confused by the term and insisted it was "purple".

After doing some research, it turns out that the definitions for these terms are (roughly):

  • Purple: "A color between red and blue"
  • Violet: "Light with a wavelength between 380nm and 450nm"

Those definitions overlap. It seems to me (subjectively) that Australians and British are in favor of the term "Purple", while US Americans prefer "Violet". However, I was unable to find any statistical proof or study on the subject.

Question: What is an adequate word to describe the flower above to the majority of native English speakers?

share|improve this question
Purple has got many different shades, while violet is a bluish purple. That's why I'd describe this flower as violet. I'm not sure however whether all native speakers would agree. – Irene Jun 19 '12 at 8:37
actually, they don't overlap at all. Purple is not a color between red (~700nm) and blue(~450nm) - yellow (~570nm) is. Purple is a mix of red and blue, which omits yellow, green, orange etc. OTOH violet may be perceived as closer to red, but is a color all by itself, in the range you gave. – SF. Jun 19 '12 at 10:22
@tchrist: Only by the technical definition not in popular use. – Peter Shor Jun 19 '12 at 11:41
Quick question: This appears to be the kind of flower called a violet. Did you ask the testers about the color or what kind of flower? (It isn't clear from your question what they were actually asked.) – JLG Jun 19 '12 at 12:14
According to wikipedia, purple has one definition in common English usage, a second definition in color theory, and a third definition among artists. – Peter Shor Jun 19 '12 at 12:18

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Here in the U.S., I think most speakers would almost always use purple.

Why? For one, there is a flower called a violet, so folks are less likely to describe a different flower as violet. The Ngram below supports my claim:

enter image description here

For another, when describing just about any object of that color, I think most people (except perhaps physicists) use purple in conversation, rather than violet (although the it's not like the latter is never used).

share|improve this answer
Photographers know the difference between purple and violet. There is no purple in a rainbow, only violet. – tchrist Jun 19 '12 at 11:42
+1 for the potential confusing surrounding 'violet' as a flower and a colour. If you showed them a different object with the same colour I suspect your results would be different. – Nomic Jan 28 '14 at 1:10
I know lots of violet flowers, including the pictured Vinca minor, sometimes called periwinkle in the Common Tongue. Which of course gave rise to yet another color-name. Plus there's the familiar "roses are red, violets are blue" rhyme, from which a lot of people think of violets as being blue (as so many indeed are). – tchrist Apr 15 at 1:01

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.