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Is olive a shade of grey?

Is olive a shade of grey?

Olive is a unique color that does not fit neatly into any one color category. While it has some grey tones, olive is not technically considered a shade of grey. However, the relationship between olive and grey is complex, as the two colors can sometimes appear similar depending on factors like lighting and personal perception.

The Color Spectrum

To understand where olive fits in the color spectrum, it helps to first break down the main color categories. The basic color wheel consists of the primary colors (red, blue, yellow), the secondary colors (green, orange, purple), and the tertiary colors made by mixing primary and secondary shades. Beyond this are countless nuanced hues ranging from reds to violets.

Grey is an achromatic color, meaning it lacks any hue and contains only black, white, and their blending. True greys sit outside the color wheel, going from white to black in progressive darkening tones. Green, on the other hand, is a secondary color made by mixing blue and yellow.

What is Olive?

Olive is considered a shade of green, situated between yellow-green and blue-green. However, it differs from a typical green in that it also contains a good amount of black or grey mixed in. This dulls down the color, moving it away from a bright kelly green toward a more muted olive tone.

While not technically a shade of grey, olive can take on greyish qualities depending on factors like:

  • Lighting – olive may appear more grey in dim lighting
  • Background – against a white background, olive can look more greyish
  • Saturation – more grey is added to desaturate the color
  • Tones – olive has cool grey tones mixed with green

So in summary, olive is considered a green color but it sits closer to grey than many other greens due to its muted and cool tones. The grey aspects of olive come from adding black/white rather than it actually being a shade of grey itself.

How Olive and Grey Can Look Similar

There are a few different ways that olive and grey can appear similar at times, leading some to mistakenly think of olive as a type of grey:

  • Low saturation – When a color is desaturated by adding grey, it becomes more muted. Olive already has grey mixed in, giving it a similarly low saturation.
  • Cool undertones – Olive often has blue/grey undertones, while pure greys also lean cool rather than warm.
  • Lighting conditions – In very bright lighting, the green in olive shows through more. In dim conditions, the greyish tones are accentuated.
  • Background – Against a white wall, olive can appear more greyish than against a black background which emphasizes the green.
  • Personal perception – Color distinctions can vary person to person. Olive may look more greyish to some.

So while olive and grey remain distinct colors, they can share some similar qualities in how they look in various contexts. The bold, vibrant green hues give way to muted greyish tones.

Comparing Olive and Grey

Looking at olive and grey side by side helps illustrate how they differ. Here is a quick visual comparison:

Olive Grey
Green hue No hue
Muted tone Neutral tone
Black/grey added Mix of black and white
Dull, low saturation Pure achromatic color
Cool blue/grey undertones Can lean cool or warm

This table summarizes the main differences. Olive is a green color with black/grey added giving it a muted greyish tone. True greys, on the other hand, contain no hue and range from black to white.

How Lighting Affects Olive and Grey

Lighting conditions can significantly impact how both olive and grey appear. Here is an overview:

  • Bright white light: Makes colors appear more vivid and saturated. The green tones in olive show through more.
  • Soft white light: Subdues colors a little bit. Olive starts to look slightly more greyish.
  • Warm incandescent light: Warms up cooler colors, downplaying blue/grey undertones. Olive and grey both appear a bit warmer.
  • Dim lighting: Causes colors to start losing vibrancy. Olive appears much greyer without enough light to bring out the green.
  • Black background: Makes lighter colors pop. Olive stands out against black but still shows its complexity.
  • White background: Can drain saturation from colors. Against white, olive looks more washed out and greyish.

So olive generally appears greener and livelier under bright lighting against darker backgrounds. Under dim lighting or against white, the muted grey tones show through more, making it resemble a grey color.

How People Perceive Olive and Grey

Since color distinctions can be subjective, how people perceive olive versus grey also impacts whether they see olive as a type of grey. Here are some factors that shape personal perception:

  • Color vision: About 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women have some degree of color blindness that could affect distinguishing greys from greens.
  • Familiarity with olive: Those very familiar with the color olive are less likely to see it as grey.
  • Viewing conditions: Olive may look more greyish in photos/screens than real life.
  • Personal associations: If someone strongly associates olive with grey or military hues, they are more apt to categorize it as a grey.
  • Naming conventions: Some languages have different color terms that could impact olive vs grey.

With factors like lighting conditions and individual perceptions at play, it’s not surprising that people may sometimes mistakenly think of olive as a type of grey even though the two colors have distinctly different makeups.


In summary, olive exists in a nebulous area between green and grey but is not technically considered a shade of grey itself. The relationship between the two colors is complex. While they can sometimes look similar under certain conditions, olive contains green hues while grey contains only mixtures of black and white. With its muted tones, olive lives in the neighborhood of grey but cannot be defined solely as a shade of grey.