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Is violet A blue or purple?

Is violet A blue or purple?

Violet is a fascinating color with a complex history. It sits at the border between blue and purple on the visible spectrum, which leads to an interesting debate – is violet more blue or more purple? In this article, we’ll examine the science, etymology, and cultural associations behind violet to help determine whether it’s more accurately described as a shade of blue or purple.

The visible spectrum

To understand where violet sits, we first need to look at the visible spectrum of light that humans can see. This spectrum consists of wavelengths ranging from about 400-700 nanometers. Violet light has wavelengths of around 380-450 nm, sitting at the shortwave end of the spectrum.

On a basic color wheel or spectrum, violet falls between indigo and blue. It sits closer to blue, but has more red mixed in compared to pure blue. This proximity and mixing with blue is why violet is sometimes called a shade of blue. However, its position on the spectrum also means it has overlap and mixing with longer red/purple wavelengths. This is why it’s also associated with purple.

Origins of “violet” and “purple”

The etymological origins of the words “violet” and “purple” also provide clues into how these colors were viewed historically. Violet comes from the Middle English and Old French word violette, which referred specifically to the purple/blue color of the violet flower. So from the beginning, violet was linked to a single flower color rather than broader color categories.

Purple, on the other hand, has origins in multiple sources. It comes from the Old English word purpul which originated from the Latin purpura. This referred to the purple-red natural dyes made from mollusks that were highly prized in antiquity. So purple had wider associations beyond a single flower or shade.

Additionally, purple took on royal and sacred meanings – the Tyrian purple dye used for robes was expensive, so purple became linked to wealth and nobility. Violet, however, maintained more humble ties to the widespread violet flower rather than grander associations like royalty.

Cultural and symbolic associations

The different cultural histories and symbolic associations of violet vs. purple also provide insight into how they were viewed. Violet often represented delicate, feminine qualities like modesty and affection, reflecting the small, delicate violet blossoms. Purple was more strongly associated with luxury, power, and ambition because of its royal ties.

In color theory, violet is considered a cool, receding, introverted color associated with imagination and spirituality. Purple is seen as more extroverted and energetic. Violet’s associations lean toward the lighter, bluer side while purple is linked to the darker, redder side.

Poetically and artistically, violets and violet eyes represented beauty, love, and charm. Purples were used for more somber, dramatic, or luxurious contexts. These associations stem from the origins and different wavelengths described earlier.

Scientific definitions

Modern scientific definitions also provide some answers, although experts don’t always agree. In optics, violet refers specifically to wavelengths between 380-450 nm. Purple is not defined as a spectral color with a single wavelength. However, purple colors are made by combining deep blue and red light.

On the traditional RYB color model, violet occupies a section between blue and purple. In modern color science, violet is considered a spectral color with its own wavelength, while purple is a non-spectral color made by mixing other colors.

Color Model Violet Definition Purple Definition
RYB Between blue and purple Mix of red and blue
RGB Mix of blue and red Mix of red and blue
CMYK Mix of blue and red Mix of red and blue

So while violet has a more definite position on the spectrum, purple is traditionally a mix of colors without a fixed wavelength. In modern color models, violet and purple are often defined the same way.

Violet vs. purple in language

How are violet and purple used in everyday language? Some distinct patterns emerge:

  • Violet is used for lighter, cooler, blue-based shades like lavender.
  • Purple describes darker, redder shades like eggplant or magenta.
  • Violet is reserved for more delicate or poetic descriptions, like violet eyes.
  • Purple is used in more dramatic or luxurious contexts, like purple prose.
  • Violet brings to mind spring flowers, while purple evokes medieval robes.

There are exceptions, but these general patterns reflect the origins and symbolism described earlier. Violet implies lighter and bluer, while purple is darker and redder. Violet evokes a softer, cooler feeling than the bolder, warmer purple.


So is violet considered blue or purple? The evidence shows it falls somewhere in between. Scientifically, violet has a distinct wavelength but overlaps with purple. Historically and symbolically, violet leans blue while purple leans red. But there is no universal consensus.

In color theory, art, optics, and everyday usage, violet sits closer to blue on the spectrum. But there is enough overlap with longer wavelengths that it also has a foot firmly planted in the purple camp. In fact, its position straddling blue and purple is what makes violet so interesting.

Context also matters – violet may be considered blue in some situations, purple in others. While opinions vary, violet’s rich history and connections to both colors are what give this vibrant shade its unique place on the spectrum.

So while the debate continues, it may be best to consider violet both a shade of blue and purple depending on the circumstances. The joy of color is that we are free to perceive shades like violet however our eyes and minds wish!