<em>: The Emphasis element

The <em> HTML element marks text that has stress emphasis. The <em> element can be nested, with each level of nesting indicating a greater degree of emphasis.

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This element only includes the global attributes.

Usage notes

The <em> element is for words that have a stressed emphasis compared to surrounding text, which is often limited to a word or words of a sentence and affects the meaning of the sentence itself.

Typically this element is displayed in italic type. However, it should not be used to apply italic styling; use the CSS font-style property for that purpose. Use the <cite> element to mark the title of a work (book, play, song, etc.). Use the <i> element to mark text that is in an alternate tone or mood, which covers many common situations for italics such as scientific names or words in other languages. Use the <strong> element to mark text that has greater importance than surrounding text.

<i> vs. <em>

Some developers may be confused by how multiple elements seemingly produce similar visual results. <em> and <i> are a common example, since they both italicize text. What's the difference? Which should you use?

By default, the visual result is the same. However, the semantic meaning is different. The <em> element represents stress emphasis of its contents, while the <i> element represents text that is set off from the normal prose, such as a foreign word, fictional character thoughts, or when the text refers to the definition of a word instead of representing its semantic meaning. (The title of a work, such as the name of a book or movie, should use <cite>.)

This means the right one to use depends on the situation. Neither is for purely decorative purposes, that's what CSS styling is for.

An example for <em> could be: "Just do it already!", or: "We had to do something about it". A person or software reading the text would pronounce the words in italics with an emphasis, using verbal stress.

An example for <i> could be: "The Queen Mary sailed last night". Here, there is no added emphasis or importance on the word "Queen Mary". It is merely indicated that the object in question is not a queen named Mary, but a ship named Queen Mary. Another example for <i> could be: "The word the is an article".


In this example, the <em> element is used to highlight an implicit or explicit contrast between two ingredient lists:

  Ice cream is made with milk, sweetener, and cream. Frozen custard, on the
  other hand, is made of milk, cream, sweetener, and <em>egg yolks</em>.


Technical summary

Content categories Flow content, phrasing content, palpable content.
Permitted content Phrasing content.
Tag omission None, both the starting and ending tag are mandatory.
Permitted parents Any element that accepts phrasing content.
Implicit ARIA role emphasis
Permitted ARIA roles Any
DOM interface HTMLElement Up to Gecko 1.9.2 (Firefox 4) inclusive, Firefox implements the HTMLSpanElement interface for this element.


HTML Standard
# the-em-element

Browser compatibility

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See also