This lesson focuses on the HTML elements that allow you to format
and add meaning to text in a page/application. For example, you might
want to identifiy a portion of text as a date and time for screen
readers and so that the date/time can be captured by a script or
calendar application, or you might want to display a quote or
poem on a page with specific spacing and line formatting. Most of
these elements are semantic, so keep in mind that they'll also
be useful in identifying the meaning of text to screen readers.
Text-Level Semantics is just a fancy phrase for
formatting text. These elements are in-line elements that give
some kind of meaning or formatting to a bit of in-line text.
For example, you might wish to style a word or phrase, you might
wish to define a word or phrase as a quote or definition,
or you might want a word or phrase to be a clickable hyperlink.
Here are the elements covered in this and later tutorials:
the line break or new-line element,
we learned about <br> in the lesson on
the anchor element, which creats a hyperlink or clickable link
within the document/application. We briefly looked at the <a>
element in the lesson on HTML Basics and
we'll learn more about how it works in the lesson on
the bold element makes its content appear
in bold and STRONG is the semantic version of the bold element: it displays
its content in bold by default but you can change this with CSS. The
<strong> element adds importance to its content. We learned about both
the <b> and <strong> elements in the lesson on
the italics element makes its content appear in
italics and EM is the semantic version of the italics element: it displays
its content in italics by default but you can change this with CSS. The
<em> element adds emphasis to its content. We learned about both the <i>
and <em> elements in the lesson on HTML Basics.
these elements allow you to create supertext and
subtext. Supertext and Subtext example:
this semantic element is used to highlight
one or more pieces of text in a document that are relevant in some contents.
A very common example is when you perform a search for a word or phrase on a page:
if you go to your browser's menu and perform a search on this page for a specific
word or phrase (e.g. "HTML", each occurrence of the word/phrase is highlighted
so you can find them easily). Google's search engine also does this when you
search for something - if you click one of the snippet results, you'll be taken
to the page and the relevant bit of text will be highlighted. For example, I
performed a search for "how does the scoville scale work" and I clicked the
snippet at the top of the search results. This took me to a page with a
passage of text highlighted (the colour of my highlight might be different
from yours, this is determined by your browser settings):
This highlighting or marking can be done using the <mark> element. Typically
the mark element is applied with scripting, and you can change its default
appearance using CSS. Here's an example, but the effects of marked text might
appear differently in different browsers. If you're interested, you can go to
the CSS tab for this example and see how you can change the appearance of
Another common use for the <mark> element is when you're displaying a
passage of text or a quote on your page, and you want to highlight a certain
word or phrase without using bold or italics (using bold or italics is confusing
in this case because then your reader isn't sure if the bold/italics are yours
or if they were part of the original passage/quote to begin with).
the semantic abbreviation element, which indicates that
its content is an abbreviation for something. The global attribute title
is used to define the full description or expansion of the abbreviation. The
title value appears as a tooltip in most browsers when the user hovers
over the term, and is read by a screen reader. Note that if you attach a title attribute
to a specific <abbr> for a specific term, that title is not automatically attached to
other <abbr> elements with the same term. Examples of how you might use the
The default styling of the <abbr> content varies from browser to
browser, but this can be altered using CSS. If you're feeling adventurous,
I left an example of this in the above CodePen.
the definition element, this is used to indicate
that the content inside the element is being defined in its parent element. The
global title element can be used optionally to contain the term being
defined, in which case the <dfn> element's contents specify an alternate
word for the term. You can also use the <dfn> element to link back to definitions
that were made previously in the document (more on the details about
how that part works in the lesson on Links).
Here are some examples:
Note that by default, the content of <dfn> appears in italics, but you can
change this with CSS (I left you an example inside the CSS tab, if you want
to give it a look, but you don't have to).
this element is used when you need
to cite a source. For example, if you quote a paper or article,
you can cite the source using the <cite> element. We'll talk more
about this element in the lesson on Quotes
quote element is used for quotes
that are displayed inline (as opposed to <blockquote>). Both
<q> and <blockquote> are discussed in the lesson on
Quotes and Code
these are both semantic elements that
are used to display samples of code and resulting output. We'll learn
more about these in the lesson on Quotes
this is an element that
allows you to define extra machine-readable data (e.g. a device or script).
We won't be using this element in this course but I will probably use it
to the user in one way but want a data value to be used in computer code.
For example, you might display a product name, but have the data element set
to the actual product's code so that when the product is selected by the
user, the code is what the "machine" reads. Here are a couple of
basic examples of how you might use it:
Note that both examples use the value attribute: this is
mandatory. The value attribute must always contain the
this semantic element represents a specific
point in time or amount of time, and allows you to display a time to the
user in one way and provide a machine-readable date/time using the
datetime attribute. An example of use would be to provide the
date and time for an event with a machine-readable value that can be
understood by a browser, causing it to provide a means to add the event
to the user's linked calendar.
The datetime attribute can only accept a certain
set of valid values. You can find a complete list in the
The datetime element is useful when you need to
pass a date/time using a standard format to a script/program but
you want to display something more user-friendly to the user. Examples
in the CodePen below.
- this element is used when displaying
mathematical formulas. We'll cover it in detail in the lesson on
Quotes and Code.
this is the non-semantic inline
version of the <div> element. It is used when you just need a
generic container to hold some text content. It's used for CSS
styling and scripting and we won't be using it much in these tutorials.