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Summary

The ::first-letter CSS pseudo-element selects the first letter of the first line of a block, if it is not preceded by any other content (such as images or inline tables) on its line.

The first letter of an element is not necessarily trivial to identify:

  • Punctuation, that is any characters defined in Unicode in the open (Ps), close (Pe), initial quote (Pi), final quote (Pf) and other punctuation (Po) classes, preceding or immediately following the first letter is also matched by this pseudo-element.
  • Similarly some languages have digraphs that are always capitalized together, like the IJ in Dutch. In these rare cases, both letters of the digraph should be matched by the ::first-letter pseudo-element. (This is poorly supported by browsers, check the browser compatibility table).
  • Finally, a combination of the ::before pseudo-element and the content property may inject some text at the beginning of the element. In that case, ::first-letter will match the first letter of this generated content.

A first line has meaning only in a block-container box, therefore the ::first-letter pseudo-element has an effect only on elements with a display value of block, inline-block, table-cell, list-item or table-caption. In all other cases, ::first-letter has no effect.

Only a small subset of all CSS properties can be used inside a declaration block of a CSS ruleset containing a selector using the ::first-letter pseudo-element:

As this list will be extended in the future, it is recommended that you not use any other properties inside the declaration block, in order to keep the CSS future-proof.

In CSS 2, pseudo-elements were prefixed with a single colon character. As pseudo-classes were also following the same convention, they were indistinguishable. To solve this, CSS 2.1 changed the convention for pseudo-elements. Now a pseudo-element is prefixed with two colon characters, and a pseudo-class is still prefixed with a single colon.

As several browsers already implemented the CSS 2 version in a release version, all browsers supporting the two-colon syntax also support the old one-colon syntax.

If legacy browsers must be supported, :first-letter is the only viable choice; if not, ::first-letter is preferred.

Syntax

/* CSS3 syntax */
::first-letter { style properties }

/* CSS2 syntax */
:first-letter { style properties }

Example

Make the first letter of every paragraph red and big.

HTML Content

<p>Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consetetur sadipscing elitr, sed diam nonumy eirmod tempor invidunt
  ut labore et dolore magna aliquyam erat, sed diam voluptua. At vero eos et accusam et justo duo
  dolores et ea rebum. Stet clita kasd gubergren, no sea takimata sanctus est. Lorem ipsum dolor
  sit amet. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consetetur sadipscing elitr, sed diam nonumy amet.</p>
<p>Duis autem vel eum iriure dolor in hendrerit in vulputate velit esse molestie consequat.</p>
<p>Ut wisi enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exerci tation ullamcorper suscipit lobortis nisl ut
  aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis autem vel eum iriure dolor in hendrerit in vulputate velit
  esse molestie consequat, vel illum dolore eu feugiat nulla facilisis at vero eros et accumsan et
  iusto odio dignissim qui blandit praesent luptatum zzril delenit augue duis dolore te feugait
  nulla facilisi.</p>
<p>-The beginning of a special punctuation mark.</p>
<p>_The beginning of a special punctuation mark.</p>
<p>"The beginning of a special punctuation mark.</p>
<p>'The beginning of a special punctuation mark.</p>
<p>*The beginning of a special punctuation mark.</p>
<p>#The beginning of a special punctuation mark.</p>
<p>「特殊的汉字标点符号开头。</p>
<p>《特殊的汉字标点符号开头。</p>
<p>“特殊的汉字标点符号开头。</p>

CSS Content

p::first-letter { /* Use :first-letter if support for IE 8 or earlier is needed */
  color: red;
  font-size: 130%;
}

Output

Specifications

Specification Status Comment
CSS Pseudo-Elements Level 4
The definition of '::first-letter' in that specification.
Working Draft Generalized allowed properties to typesetting, text decoration and inline layout properties, opacity and box-shadow.
CSS Text Decoration Level 3
The definition of 'text-shadow with ::first-letter' in that specification.
Candidate Recommendation Allowed the usage of text-shadow with ::first-letter.
Selectors Level 3
The definition of '::first-letter' in that specification.
Recommendation Defined edge-case behavior like in list items, or with language specific behavior (like the Dutch digraph IJ). The two-colon syntax for pseudo-elements has been introduced.
CSS Level 2 (Revision 1)
The definition of '::first-letter' in that specification.
Recommendation No significant change, though CSS Level 2 still used the one-colon syntax.
CSS Level 1
The definition of '::first-letter' in that specification.
Recommendation The initial definition used the one-colon syntax.

Browser compatibility

Feature Chrome Firefox (Gecko) Internet Explorer Opera Safari (WebKit)
Basic support 1.0 1.0 (1.7 or earlier) 9.0 7.0 1.0 (85)
Old one-colon syntax (:first-letter) 1.0 1.0 (1.7 or earlier) 5.5 3.5 1.0 (85)
Support for the Dutch digraph IJ No support No support bug 92176  No support No support No support
Feature Android Firefox Mobile (Gecko) IE Phone Opera Mobile Safari Mobile
Basic support ? 1.0 (1) No support ? ?
Old one-colon syntax (:first-letter) ? 1.0 (1) ? ? ?
Support for the Dutch digraph IJ ? No support ? ? ?

See also