achingly clear blue


Hi there. The following extract is from a novel. I couldn't understand what the writer wants to mean by saying "achingly clear". How would you paraphrase it? And why does the writer use "an" in the sentence. Don't we use "an" before nouns. Here, however, it is used before an adjective. I will appreciate your help.
The road -- actually little more than a series of ruts worn by hooves and wheels -- follows the river where it plunges down a series of shallow falls. Under the birches patches of moss gleam emerald in the sunlight. Fallen leaves, crystallized by the night's frost, crackle under my feet, whispering of the coming winter. The sky is an achingly clear blue. I walk quickly in my anger, head high. It probably makes me look cheerful.
  • charisma_classic

    Senior Member
    English, U.S.A.
    "An" is used before a word that begins with a vowel sound, be it an adjective or a noun.

    An apple
    A red apple
    An orange apple
    An hour
    A long hour
    An endless hour

    As for the use of the word "achingly", the author is trying to set an emotional tone. The sky is very clear blue - so beautiful it hurts to look at. Obviously it doesn't physically hurt, but he is trying to give the reader an emotion to connect with the visual.


    Senior Member
    English - USA
    There are many possible shades of blue; "a blue" refers to some particular shade out of the many possibilities. The fact that it is an achingly clear blue means that the particular shade evokes a strong emotional response. It means a really dramatic, intense shade of blue that is so beautiful it almost hurts (emotionally) to look at it, or perhaps that it is so intense that it underscores, intensifies, or contrasts with the narrator's feelings (in this case, of anger).

    It's a poetic description. You would not ever find a color of paint called "achingly clear blue," nor would it be appropriate to talk about an "achingly clear blue" in any sort of formal/professional communication. You will however see the phrase used in poetry and descriptive/artistic prose, pretty much always in reference to the sky. I can vividly picture the sort of sky the narrator is describing. :)

    Edit: Clear means the sky is not cloudy or hazy: "a clear blue sky" versus "a hazy blue sky."
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    Senior Member
    English - USA
    There's many possibilities to rephrase it in English.
    "The sky was so blue that..."
    "The sky was so clear that..."
    "The sky was so clear and blue that..."
    "The sky was such a bright blue that..."

    In my opinion, none of these carry the same emotional weight, but it might help you translate it. There are 2-3 important concepts in the phrase: one is that the sky is an intense blue color, the second is that the sky is clear (though this could be considered part of the first), and the third is that there is a strong emotional response.

    For descriptive or poetic writing, a literal translation is not always best, so you might think about expressions about the sky in your own language and see if anything fits.
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