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There are several common attributes that may appear in many elements :

  • The id attribute provides a document-wide unique identifier for an element. For example, the ID “Attributes” in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTML#Attributes
  • The class attribute provides a way of classifying similar elements. Multiple class values may be specified; for example class=”notation important” puts the element into both the ‘notation’ and the ‘important’ classes.
  • An author may use the style attribute to assign presentational properties to a particular element.
  • The title attribute is used to attach subtextual explanation to an element. In most browsers this attribute is displayed as a tooltip.
  • The lang attribute identifies the natural language of the element’s contents, which may be different from that of the rest of the document. For example, in an English-language document:
The abbreviation element, abbr, can be used to demonstrate some of these attributes :

Comprehensive list of HTML tags with their semantically appropriate uses



What it is

When to use it


Anchor (most commonly a link)

Vital. Use to create links in content. Use the title attribute whenever the contents of the <a>…</a> pair do not accurately describe what you'll get from selecting the link. Title attribute often displays as a tooltip in visual browsers, which may be a helpful usability aid.


Defines an abbreviation

Works in a similar way to <dfn> and <acronym>, using a title attribute (displays a tooltip in standard visual browsers). e.g. <abbr title="Hypertext markup language">HTML</abbr>


Defines an acronym

Works in a similar way to <abbr> and <dfn>, using a title attribute (displays a tooltip in standard visual browsers).


Used for marking up a physical (e.g. mailing) address

Not commonly used. Recommend looking into microformats, which allow for more detail and interoperability.


Inserts a Java applet

The old way to insert a Java app. Use <object> instead today.


Hotspot in image map

Avoid image maps where possible. Occasionally necessary.


Specifies the base location of the document. relative links and paths

Use only when necessary. Adjusts any within the document.


Sets default font size

Display info - never use it


Larger text

Display info - never use it


Makes text blink

You go to hell if you use this



Large quoted block of text Use for any quoted text that constitutes one or more paragraphs (note: should contain <p> tags as well). Use <q> for quotations within a paragraph. Often used in conjunction with <cite> to cite the quotation's source.


Document body

Essential (unless you're using frames)


Line break

This is arguably display information. Still in common use, but use with restraint. 


Bold text

Display info - never use it


Used for a standard clickable button within a form

Often better than <input type="button" /> or <input type="submit" />, as it allows you to assign different styles based on the HTML element alone, whereas differentiating style based on the type of input is less well supported.


Caption for a table: describe the tables’s of content

The correct way to assign a title to a table


Centred block

Display info - never use it. Use <div> or some other block-level tag with the style text-align:center instead


Defines a citation

Defines the source of a quotation (in conjunction with content in <q> or <blockquote> pairs).


Defines an extract of code

Not commonly used. Similar to <pre> tag, but collapses consecutive white spaces and line breaks in the source.


Identifies a particular column in a table

Can be very useful. e.g. < col class="namecol"> can be applied to each first column in a series of tables, then the width of each column may be set to be equal in the stylesheet, overriding the table's natural tendency to adjust its own column widths to fit its contents.


Definition of a term

Works in a similar way to <abbr> and <acronym>, using a title attribute (displays a tooltip in standard visual browsers).


Directory list

Now deprecated. Use a standard <ul> or other list instead.



Specifies a logical division within a document. Use it to separate or identify chunks of content that are not otherwise distinguished naturally using other tags.

One of the most common HTML tags.


Definition list

Contains one or more definition-term / definition-description pairs.


Definition term

Used as part of a <dt></dt><dd></dd> pair within a definition list (<dl></dl>)


Definition description




Commonly used in place of the old <i> (italics) tag to indicate emphasis (but less than <strong>)


Font settings

Display info - never use it


Input form

Essential for data input


Level 1 header

Aim to have one H1 on each page, containing a description of what the page is about.


Level 2 header

Defines a section of the page


Level 3 header

Defines a sub-section of the page (should always follow an H2 in the logical hierarchy)


Level 4 header

Etc. Less commonly used


Level 5 header

Less commonly used. Only complex academic documents will break down to this level of detail.


Level 6 header

Less commonly used


Document head

Essential. Contains information about a page that does not constitute content to be communicated as part of the page.


Horizontal rule

Display info with no semantic value - never use it. "Horizontal", by definition, is a visual attribute.



Core element of every web page.

<IMG >

Show an image

Vital. Always use the alt or longdesc attributes when the image has content value


Input fields within forms        Vital.

(I prefer to use <button> for buttons and submit buttons though)


Old type of search input Not really used any more.

Use <form> instead.


Italicised text

Display info - never use it


Keyboard input

Display info - never use it


Defines a relationship to another document

Commonly used to reference external stylesheets, but has other minor uses


List item

Specifies an item in an unordered or ordered list (<ul> or <ol>)


Client-side imagemap

May have occasional value, but only use when absolutely necessary


Makes text scroll across the screen

See <blink>


Menu item list

Deprecated. Do not use. Use other standard list types instead.



Useful way to insert relevant information into the <head> section of the page that does not need to be displayed.


Ordered list

Type of list where the order of elements has some meaning. Generally rendered with item numbers (best managed with CSS).


Selection list option

Vital for options within a drop-down control.


Parameter for Java applet

Used in conjunction with an <object> or <applet> tag to pass additional setting information at runtime.


Preformatted text

Renders text in a pre-formatted style, preserving line breaks and all spaces present in the source. May be useful. (This one's a paradox, as it is strictly display info that applies only to visual browsing, but it's still so commonly used and useful that I'm hesitant to advise against using it.)



Only use to denote a paragraph of text. Never use for spacing alone.


Short quotation

Use for inline quotations (whereas <blockquote> should be used for quotations of a paragraph or more). Often used in conjunction with <cite> to cite the quotation's source.


Denotes sample output text

Similar to the <code> tag. Rarely used. Avoid.


Inline script

It's better to have all scripts as separate files


(e.g. JavaScript)

than to write inline or in the <head> section, however still has its uses.


Selection list

A drop-down selector for a form.


Smaller text

Display info - never use it


An inline span

Use to apply meaning (and style) to a span


within text

of text that goes with the flow of content (whereas a <div> tag is block- level and breaks the flow)



Display info - never use it


Strong emphasis

Use this instead of the old <b> tag.


CSS style settings

Normally used in <head> section of a page. Try to use external stylesheets, to enable you to apply different styles for different output media.


Subscript text

Arguably display info - recommend using alternative tags (e.g. <cite>). May be required in some academic uses, e.g. Chemical formulas.


Superscript text




Use for repeated data that has a naturally tabular form. Never use for layout purposes.


Table data cell

A cell containing actual data. If a cell actually contains a descriptor or identifier for a row or column, use a <th> (table header) tag, not a <td>. This usually applies to column headers (within a <thead>), column footers (within a <tfoot>), as well as row headers (usually the first cell in a row in the <tbody>).


Multi-line text input area in a form



Table column or row header cell

May appear in a <thead> (to denote a column header cell), <tbody> (to denote a row header), and in <tfoot> (to denote a column foot cell, e.g. a total)


Indicates the main body of a data table

It is always worth using this tag, as well as using <thead> and <tfoot> where appropriate.



Note that it is permissible to have more than one <tbody>, <thead>, and <tfoot> in the same table.


The head section of a table

The place to put column header cells (<th>)


The foot section of a table

Good place to put e.g. summary data, such as totals. Note that it goes before the <tbody> tag!


Document title



Table row

Essential with tables


"Teletype" - simulates

Similar to <pre>, except that it collapses white


typewriter output

space like normal HTML (whereas <pre> leaves all consecutive white space intact). Avoid if possible


Unordered list

Essential. Use for lists where the order or items has no particular importance.


Underline text

Display info - never use it


Variable in computer code

Obscure tag, may only be useful in academic documents. Avoid.


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