What colour (of) ...? [hat / iPhone]

Elaine Koh

Senior Member
Singapore
Jane bought a red hat.

If I want to ask the colour of the hat, which below question is correct? If none, how do I ask the question?

What colour hat did Jane buy?
What colour is the hat that Jane bought?

Thanks a lot.
 
  • charisma_classic

    Senior Member
    English, U.S.A.
    Either of your options are correct.

    "Which is the colour of Jane's hat?" is not correct - this question should be asked as "What color is Jane's hat/What is the color of Jane's hat?"
     

    johndot

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In my opinion the most usual way of phrasing the question would be, “What colour hat did Jane buy?”
     

    Aardvark01

    Senior Member
    British English (Midlands)
    Jane bought a red hat.

    If I want to ask the colour of the hat, which below question is correct? If none, how do I ask the question?

    1. What colour hat did Jane buy?
    2. What colour is the hat that Jane bought?

    Thanks a lot.
    Both are grammatically correct.
    I would teach English students to use 2. before introducing them to the use of the auxiliary verb 'do' ('did' in 1.).
    As a native speaker I would use 1. in common speech because it is more concise.
     

    Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    As a native speaker I would use 1. in common speech because it is more concise.

    Are we perhaps into a BE/AE/CaE difference again? As a native-speaker, I would never say this. If I were to use this structure, I would say, as Wilma indicated, "What colour of hat did Jane buy?" In fact, "What colour hat did Jane buy?" sounds grammatically incorrect to me. Isn't that the same as saying "What type hat did Jane buy?" or "What shape hat did Jane buy?" All sound ungrammatical to me.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Maybe there is a varietal difference here.

    For me "what colour hat did Jane buy?" is unexceptional.
     

    Wilma_Sweden

    Senior Member
    Swedish (Scania)
    Are we perhaps into a BE/AE/CaE difference again?
    Probably, since all votes for 'what colour hat' were BE, and this type of construction would be every bit as hard to grasp as the do-construction for a non-native student. That's why I was wondering about the pattern, i.e. other contexts with a similar construction.

    /Wilma
     

    kitenok

    Senior Member
    I think the Americans were just abstaining because we instinctively look the other way when we see color spelled as colour.;) I would happily ask "what color hat...?"

    But that hasn't stopped me from wondering about the grammar behind it as I've followed this thread. The phrase "what color" does seem to behave as an interrogative adjective unto itself here, doesn't it? This had never occurred to me before...
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Those whose writing appears on Google seem to strongly favor the version without "of". The results divided by the spelling of colour/color:
    (These are the numbers of citations I found when I did the searches and clicked to the last citation. If you click on a link, Google will do another search, so your results may be different.)
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Frantic BE-speaker waving from the back corner.
    What colour hat ...!!!!
    I would never hear that question without thinking "non-native speaker".
    Whether non-native is AE or non-English-native I don't know, now.
    I always assumed "What colour hat ..." was an AE construction, but it appears not, from this thread.
     

    Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Those whose writing appears on Google seem to strongly favor the version without "of". The results divided by the spelling of colour/color:
    (These are the numbers of citations I found when I did the searches and clicked to the last citation. If you click on a link, Google will do another search, so your results may be different.)

    Dr. Google is not discriminatory.:) I guess I just don't understand the grammar of "what colour hat". To me, that implies the acceptability of many other constructions such as "What type shoes did you buy?" or "What kind house do you live in?" Are these okay or is it just "what colour" that works like this?
     

    Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Frantic BE-speaker waving from the back corner.
    What colour hat ...!!!!
    I would never hear that question without thinking "non-native speaker".
    Whether non-native is AE or non-English-native I don't know, now.
    I always assumed "What colour hat ..." was an AE construction, but it appears not, from this thread.

    I'm glad that you waved, Panj.;) I'm often out in left field and it's nice to know I'm not alone.
     

    Aardvark01

    Senior Member
    British English (Midlands)
    Similar examples of this construct would be:

    Question: What size of shoe do you wear?
    Answer: Eleven
    Question: What colour of eyes do you have?
    Answer: Blue
    Q: What style (of =optional) clothing do you prefer?
    A: Blue shirt and faded jeans, to go with my eyes.

    The last Question requires an answer that is more than a single, objective word or phrase. But that doesn't quite work as a rule. I need to give more thought to it as I've not addressed this question before.

    In common speech I'd be happy with: 'what shape hat is she wearing' predicting a simple answer like: 'tall','peaked' or 'broad rimmed'. But then a longer answer would not surprise me: 'Boat shaped with lace and cherries on top and Morris dancers around the rim...'
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    To me, that implies the acceptability of many other constructions such as "What type shoes did you buy?" or "What kind house do you live in?" Are these okay or is it just "what colour" that works like this?

    The use without "of" seems to depend on the word. For instance, the following shows the same preference, but to a lesser degree.At least in these examples, the proportions do not depend on dialect, if the spelling reflects dialect.

    Words like "type" and "kind" are not often used without 'of'.
    For instance, the results for "what type of movie" vs. "what type movie" are 618/ 26.
     

    Wilma_Sweden

    Senior Member
    Swedish (Scania)
    Similar examples of this construct would be:

    Question: What size of shoe do you wear?
    Answer: Eleven
    Question: What colour of eyes do you have?
    Answer: Blue
    Q: What style (of =optional) clothing do you prefer?
    A: Blue shirt and faded jeans, to go with my eyes.

    The last Question requires an answer that is more than a single, objective word or phrase. But that doesn't quite work as a rule. I need to give more thought to it as I've not addressed this question before.

    In common speech I'd be happy with: 'what shape hat is she wearing' predicting a simple answer like: 'tall','peaked' or 'broad rimmed'.
    Thanks, Aardvark & Cagey, for those examples. What would be really useful is a semantic or syntactic text corpus where you could look for patterns based on word class or clause function rather than specific words!

    But then a longer answer would not surprise me: 'Boat shaped with lace and cherries on top and Morris dancers around the rim...'
    Sounds like the perfect hat for A Day At The Races although I can't remember where you'll find the most outlandish ones... :D !

    /Wilma
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Frantic BE-speaker waving from the back corner.
    What colour hat ...!!!!
    I would never hear that question without thinking "non-native speaker".
    Whether non-native is AE or non-English-native I don't know, now.
    I always assumed "What colour hat ..." was an AE construction, but it appears not, from this thread.
    Definitely not. I'm happy with:
    What colour hat...
    What colour eyes...
    What colour shirt...

    What do you say instead, panj?
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I agree, GWB.

    What size T-shirt?:tick:
    What colour T-shirt?:tick:

    Not an AmE/BrE difference, then, but something more subtle, perhaps.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I know this structure, with of, sounds strange, but in reality it very rarely happens. The concept, the grammatical structure, is completely alien to me.

    If we are talking about shoes - what size do you take?
    If we are talking about something completely different and I have a sudden urge to ask about shoe size - what is your shoe size?

    Eye colour?
    What colour eyes do you have :eek:
    What colour are your eyes? :tick:
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I agree that "what colour eyes do you have?" sounds odd. But that's because the implication of the sentence is that you can choose/change your eye-colour...

    I'm still intrigued by panj's desire to insert "of" in such sentences as "what size/colour shirt do you want?"
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I agree that "what colour eyes do you have?" sounds odd. But that's because the implication of the sentence is that you can choose/change your eye-colour...

    I'm still intrigued by panj's desire to insert "of" in such sentences as "what size/colour shirt do you want?"
    It is not my desire to insert "of" in such sentences.
    It is my desire to completely avoid this sentence structure.
    If you back me into a corner and insist that I use a "What size/colour ....", then I will insist on putting "of" in the sentence. Sorry about that.

    Can you explain the context in which it would be necessary to ask this strange question? I suggest that is happens very rarely.
    If we are talking about shirts, "What size/colour do you want?" will be perfect.
     

    Wilma_Sweden

    Senior Member
    Swedish (Scania)
    Curiouser and curiouser! :)

    Constructions such as these are evidently in use and considered OK by some on both sides of the 'puddle' but perhaps the best advice to an EFL learner would be to play it safe and avoid them unless you're 110% positive that they will work in a given context.

    One of the problems seems to be that you get a strange 'reversed compound' - hat colour works but colour hat looks odd. However, you can't say "What hat colour did you buy" because you don't buy the colour, you buy the hat. "What ice cream flavour did you buy?" would sound odd for the same reason, while "what ice cream flavour do you like?" would work.

    The same with 'size shoe': You could ask 'what shoe size do you wear?' but it sounds odd because you don't wear the size, you wear the shoe. The shop assistant could of course ask what shoe size I want, and then there's no need to reverse it to 'What size shoe do you want'...

    /Wilma
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Well, yes.

    In "hat colour", hat works as an adjective, as you demonstrate above.

    In "what color hat did she buy?", "color" is clearly the subject of the sentence and a noun. "Hat" is also a noun. It is awkward to have two nouns abutting each other without a marker that indicates their relationship. Inserting "of" remedies this, although for other reasons it may seem clumsy. The other remedy is to omit one of the nouns, as in Panj's "What size/color do you want?"

    In fact, I agree that the construction is awkward, though common.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I don't think it's any more awkward than "the same colour shoes/the same size shoes".

    I'm troubled by Wilma's summary: what colour/size + noun is, to me, so unexceptional - so standard - that I'd hesitate to recommend that EFL students avoid it.

    I've tried to check the British National Corpus but for some reason it's being antsy.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Perhaps we're developing a varietal distinction here: CanE plus IE vs ROW?
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Wilma was asking about the grammar behind what colour hat, and the answer must be ellipsis. I would also assume that this would also be a pattern found more in speech than in writing. I wonder how folks, for instance, would transform the question into reported/indirect speech.

    He said, 'What colour hat did you buy?'
    He asked Jane ....

    Would you say this or something else? He asked Jane what colour hat she bought.
     

    Wilma_Sweden

    Senior Member
    Swedish (Scania)
    I don't think it's any more awkward than "the same colour shoes/the same size shoes".

    I'm troubled by Wilma's summary: what colour/size + noun is, to me, so unexceptional - so standard - that I'd hesitate to recommend that EFL students avoid it.

    I've tried to check the British National Corpus but for some reason it's being antsy.
    I'm not troubled anymore - BNC samples favour your construction, i.e. what colour/flavour/size + noun, (although there were a few what size of + noun, too). There were samples from conversations as well as written language. Consequently, I've jumped off the fence and into the ROW team! :)

    Thank you Natkretep, ellipsis seems to be the term for this construction. Based on Loob's testimony, the same construction would probably appear in reported speech, too, except perhaps in highly formal written language.

    /Wilma
     

    Aardvark01

    Senior Member
    British English (Midlands)
    I have noticed that friends from both Northern and Southern Ireland (plus a friend of Scottish descent from Alberta, Canada) use the construct with 'of' while this side of the channel we don't. .
    Could this be a result of the Celtic diaspora? It just doesn't sound 'right' without a Gaelic/Gallic accent.

    More Google results:
    English
    what colour eyes? - 14,400 - ...car? 3530 ...hair? 42,000
    what colour of eyes? 4,400 - ...car? 226 .....hair? 19,000
    American
    what color eyes? - 65,000 - ...car? 11,800 ...hair? 50,900
    what color of eyes? 5,040 - ...car? 722 .......hair? 4,190

    The same numerical differences appear with size (of) shoe and feet, but the gap is less with shape (of) nose while the proportions are reversed for style of hat.
    (The latter could be classed as a 'noun of kind' - kind (of), sort (of), type (of) - which are normally followed by 'of').

    It appears that the construct is only common with colour or size.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Suppose you wanted to buy a friend a souvenir t-shirt on your next visit to Cancun. Wouldn't every one ask "What size t-shirt do you wear?"
    Is this any different?
    "What size of t-shirt do you wear"?
    Really, Panj???:confused:
    Actually, no. If using this construction, I would always say "What size of t-shirt do you wear?"
    Responding to GWB's question and Dimcl's comment:
    The need for this question does not arise.
    We are having a conversation about the possibility of buying my friend a t-shirt - context set. I ask "What size do you take?"
    I don't think it's any more awkward than "the same colour shoes/the same size shoes".
    [...]
    I agree; it is no more awkward and no less awkward. I wouldn't say "the same colour/size shoes" either.

    If I had to find a grammatical explanation I would start from Cagey's comment about the two nouns coming together.
    Some nouns comfortably take on an attributive role, hat for example.
    So you can have a hat-pin, a hat-box, a hat shop.
    Colour and size do not, for me, take on this role.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    What colour of hat did Jane buy.

    This sounds very odd to me, and if I heard it I'd assume an American speaker, simply because I've noticed before that they add in an "of" where we don't.

    In addition, I think of it as them ADDING and therefore not ellipsis to my sense of native speech.
     

    johndot

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Wilma was asking about the grammar behind what colour hat, and the answer must be ellipsis. I would also assume that this would also be a pattern found more in speech than in writing. I wonder how folks, for instance, would transform the question into reported/indirect speech.

    He said, 'What colour hat did you buy?'
    He asked Jane ....

    Would you say this or something else? He asked Jane what colour hat she bought.
    (natkretep, post #33)

    He asked Jane what colour hat she had bought.
     
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    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Thanks, John. So the construction is considered sufficiently acceptable for reported speech. (The perfective (no. 38) must reflect the form of the direct version: presumably then, John would prefer the direct speech version 'What colour hat have you bought?') I can only conclude, as Wilma has suggested, that this construction must be considered standard (except perhaps in Ireland and Canada).
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    As I've said by PM to one of the contributors to this thread, I think there are several dimensions to this question.

    First, there's the varietal dimension: it's clear from the thread that "what colour+noun?" is {general} AmE as well as {general} BrE, although it's not IE or at least one variety of CanE. (Dimcl: do you have Irish antecedents?)

    Then there's an "is it ellipsis?" issue. As suzi_br said, it certainly doesn't feel as if there's an elided "of" to the native speakers who use it....

    And there's a "continuum" issue. I couldn't say "what colour of dress?"; nor could I say "what kind dress?" (without "of"). But I could say both "what flavour ice-cream?" and "what flavour of ice-cream?"

    I wonder if there's a transition going on here, and some collocations are further down the "no preposition" route than others.


    PS to natkretep: "He asked Jane what colour hat she had bought" is the indirect speech translation of both "What colour hat did you buy, Jane?" and "What colour hat have you bought, Jane?"

    EDIT: Oops: meant to mention this Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English reference:[
    What colour dress did you buy?
    quote]Wat colour dress did you buy?[/quote]
     
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    Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    First, there's the varietal dimension: it's clear from the thread that "what colour+noun?" is {general} AmE as well as {general} BrE, although it's not IE or at least one variety of CanE. (Dimcl: do you have Irish antecedents?)

    Scottish and English

    The use of "what colour/flavour/size XYZ" without the "of" sounds so foreign to my ears that I truly thought that it was strictly AE. I was brought up to speak "proper English" (meaning "The Queen's English" in my family and educational institutions) and to find that this odd structure is perfectly natural to BE-speakers amazes me.

    I can only attribute this phenomenon to the possibility that I have missed some decades of a population-wide, gradual slide into removing the use of "of" in these contexts or that it's an "age thing" whereby younger people have been taught the acceptability of no "of".
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The use of "what colour/flavour/size XYZ" without the "of" sounds so foreign to my ears that I truly thought that it was strictly AE. I was brought up to speak "proper English" (meaning "The Queen's English" in my family and educational institutions) and to find that this odd structure is perfectly natural to BE-speakers amazes me.

    I can only attribute this phenomenon to the possibility that I have missed some decades of a population-wide, gradual slide into removing the use of "of" in these contexts or that it's an "age thing" whereby younger people have been taught the acceptability of no "of".
    I could have written that.
     

    Wilma_Sweden

    Senior Member
    Swedish (Scania)
    Thanks all of you for your input. I found the whole issue quite intriguing and will, given time, check available grammar books and/or linguistics sources.

    It's possible that there is some kind of language change going on, as Loob suggests, the end result of which we won't see for another few decades - who knows?

    /Wilma
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I can only attribute this phenomenon to the possibility that I have missed some decades of a population-wide, gradual slide into removing the use of "of" in these contexts or that it's an "age thing" whereby younger people have been taught the acceptability of no "of".

    Some people talk of a 'colonial lag':

    Nonetheless, a certain antiquity is the point being made and the situation where colonies seem to fall behind developments in the mainland is often labelled ‘colonial lag’ (Görlach 1987).
    Raymond Hickey, Legacies of Colonial English: Studies in Transported Dialects
     

    losilmer

    Senior Member
    I would like to expose my opinion about this.

    In "What colour or color hat do you like?" the word colour-color is not a name but an adjective. Like probably would be colorous, color-filled, or similar, forcing the interpretation. So, "What?" goes with hat, and hat is qualified by the adjetivized noun, therefore an adjective, in our case colour/color. The question would be "What hat (with color) do you like?". The same applies to "size shoe"="shoe (size-wise)", and so on. In a word, what does not inquire about the color or size or similar, which are adjectives, but about the object (hat, shoe, etc.), in order to distinguish or separate it from the rest of them. We do not want to know what color or size is, but what hat or shoe it is, (even though always referring to colors or sizes). I might be wrong, but this is which I had always thought.

    Summing up, Elaine Koh's wanted to know how to ask about the colour of the hat, not about what hat it was. So, the correct question would be

    What colour/color is the hat that/which Jane bought?
    What colour/color is the hat Jane bought?
    What is/What's the colour/color of the hat that/which Jane bought?
    What is/What's the colour/color of the hat Jane bought?

    Also
    What colour/color has the hat that/which Jane bought?
    What colour/color has the hat Jane bought?
     
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    Forero

    Senior Member
    I think the difficulty we are having is that "red", "green", etc., are both adjectives and nouns. I agree with Kitenok (Post #11). To me "what colo(u)r" can serve as an interrogative adjective, to be answered with "red", "green", "red and green mottled", or some other colo(u)r adjective.

    What color of hat did Jane buy?
    The question is the color of the hat.
    Red (noun) is the color of the hat that Jane bought.

    What color hat did Jane buy?
    The question is what color the hat was (not what color it was "of").
    Jane bought a red (adjective) hat.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    [...]
    In "What colour or color hat do you like?" the word colour-color is not a name but an adjective. Like probably would be colorous, color-filled, or similar, forcing the interpretation. So, "What?" goes with hat, and hat is qualified by the adjetivized noun, therefore an adjective, in our case colour/color. [...]
    That is the grammatical device at work here.
    It relies on colour and size being used in this way - being used attributively (see post #36).
    For some of us at least, this is not normal usage and therefore What colour hat sound alien.
     
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    George French

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    An interesting thread & so loonnng.

    Colour as an adjective is in the dictionaries and there are more google hits for "colour hat" than for "colour of hat". This also applies to the US-EN spelling.

    Random checks on the pages also suggest a few people are actually bothered about the colour of a hat!

    GF...
     
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    losilmer

    Senior Member
    One more addition.
    Being so that due to the flexibility of English we can transform a noun into an adjective with a mere transposition, it occurs to me that if Elaine Koh wants to ask for the colour/color, she could say:
    What hat colour did Jane buy? (what color of hat)
    What hat colour is it that (which) Jane bought?
     
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