Learning HTML 3.2 by Examples, section 5 Descriptions of HTML 3.2 tags:

DL - definition list


To present a list of definitions for terms.

Typical rendering

A list where the terms are distinguished by means of layout or font usage or both. The rendering should support the association of each definition with the corresponding term. Typically the term is flush left while the definition is somewhat indented, but without bullets of any kind.

Basic syntax

<DT>term 1<DD>definition of term 1
<DT>term 2<DD>definition of term 2

Possible attributes

attribute name possible values meaning
COMPACT COMPACT more compact style of rendering

In practice, browsers often ignore the COMPACT attribute or implement it deficiently. The attribute is deprecated in HTML 4.0.

Allowed context

Block container.


DT and DD elements.

Normally you have pairs of DT and DD elements, specifying a term and its definition, of course. Multiple DT elements may be paired with a single DD element; this means that several terms share the same definition.

According to the HTML 2.0 specification, a document should not contain multiple consecutive DD elements, although this is not enforced in the formal syntax. On the other hand, there is no such statement in the HTML 3.2 specification, and it has been argued that a term might well have several (alternative) definitions.


Example DL.html:

  <DT>Recursion, indirect
  <DD>See <I>indirect recursion</I>.
  <DT>Indirect recursion
  <DD>See <I>recursion, indirect</I>.

Example DL-2.html:

  <dt><span class="dt">term</span></dt>
  <dd>a word or expression that has a precise meaning
  in some uses or is peculiar to a science, art,
  profession, or subject (source:
  <cite><a href="http://www.m-w.com/">WWWebster</a></cite>)</dd>
See also: Examples of various list elements in HTML.


Although DL is basically for definitions, it is often used for descriptions as well.

Browsers typically present a DL element in a form which is not suitable for presenting lists of short definitions, even if you use the COMPACT attribute.

You can use a TABLE element instead of a DL element (but remember that not all browsers support tables). See general notes about list elements.

Date of last update: 2010-12-16.
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