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Hitting Your Target: Advanced CSS Selectors

Paul Stefko
Mar 22, 2022
We dig into CSS selectors and look at more advanced ways to target elements and apply styles intelligently.
📕 3 min.

In our introduction to CSS, we touched briefly on selectors, the way you tell the browser which element(s) to style. Now it's time to get more advanced and really leverage the power of CSS to target specific elements.

Type & Class

To select an element that is of a certain type and a certain class, use a selector of the type followed by the class, seperated by a period .. The following CSS makes all <div> elements with the box class have a solid blue border. {
border: 1px solid blue;

Multiple Selectors, One Style

If you have a style that you want to apply to multiple different kinds of element, you don't have to repeat the style over and over again for each one. You can just write the style once, and list every selector you want it to apply to, seperated by commas ,. The following CSS will make all of your heading elements red .

h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6 {
color: red;

Child Elements

If you want to select all elements of a given type that are within an element of a given type, just list the selector of the parent element followed by the selector for the target element, seperated by a space. The following CSS makes any <p> elements inside a <div> element italic.

div p {
font-style: italic;

The above will select all <p> elements that are anywhere within a <div>, even if they are inside other elements. If you only want an element that is a direct child of another element, seperate the selectors with a closing angle bracket >. The following CSS makes <p> elements italic if they are inside a <div> but not inside any other element inside that <div>.

div > p {
font-style: italic;

Sibling Elements

Maybe you want to select elements that are next to other elements (siblings). To get an element that is directly after another element, seperate the selectors with a plus +. The following CSS gives any element with the indent class a left margin of 1em only if it immediately follows a <h2> element.

h2 + .indent {
margin-left: 1em;

If you want to style an element that is anywhere after another given sibling element, seperate the two selectors with a tilde ~. The following CSS selects any <blockquote> elements that are after a sibling with the citations class and gives them a light gray background.

.citations ~ blockquote {
backgrdoun-color: lightgray;


Sometimes you just want to select everything. Or at least "everything that fits some other criteria." That's when you want to use an asterisk * as your selector. An asterisk will select every element, so you should use it together with one of the other combinations above.

The following CSS gives every element that is a direct child of any <div> with the spaced class a top margin of 1em.

div.spaced > * {
margin-top: 1em;


Obviously, using these advanced selectors adds a good deal of complication to your style sheet. But it also makes it possible to do a lot of sophisticated design tricks. Depending on your document's structure, you may not need all of these tools. But if you run into a problem selecting just the right elements, try these options out.