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CSS nth-child selector basics

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Tutorial for nth-child selectors with examples to get more advanced with CSS selectors.

4 Nov, 2020 ยท 3 min read

Today we'll be learning some CSS basics. I tend to use nth-child CSS selectors in my articles.

But that made me realise I haven't really gone over the basics of using nth-child selectors.

Today we will be exploring the options of this powerful CSS selector with some examples.

Nth-child basic selectors

Let's start off with some basic nth-child selectors:

We can define which number of an element we want to select. So lets say we want to select the third list element.

<ul>
  <li>Item 1</li>
  <li>Item 2</li>
  <li>Item 3</li>
  <li>Item 4</li>
  <li>Item 5</li>
</ul>
li:nth-child(3) {
  color: green;
}

The Result is that only the third element is selected for the styles:

nth-child number selector

Odd/Even selector

We can select every odd or even element number by using these attributes.

li:nth-child(odd) {
  color: red;
}

The result is that only the odd items are selected:

nth-child odd selector

li:nth-child(even) {
  color: blue;
}

In this example the selector takes all even HTML elements and applies the styling:

nth-child even selector

Every x selector

Something cool we can do with the nth-child selector is select every x element. So let's say for example we want every fourth element:

li:nth-child(4n) {
  color: purple;
}

Now every 4th child element is selected:

nth-child every 4th

Or if we want to include the first item:

li:nth-child(4n + 1) {
  color: purple;
}

Result:

nth-child every 4th from 1

We can also start from the second element for instance:

li:nth-child(4n + 2) {
  color: purple;
}

Result:

nth-child every 4th from 2

Select every item but the first x items

We can even use a selector that selects every tag but the first three elements.

li:nth-child(n + 4) {
  color: teal;
}

Result:

nth-child everything but first three

Select first x number of elements

Another cool thing we can do is select only the first x amount. Let's get the first three items:

li:nth-child(-n + 3) {
  color: teal;
}

Result:

css nth-child first three

Select the last element

We can even select the last element.

li:last-child {
  color: orange;
}

Result:

css nth last-child selector

With this, we can also offset to get the second to last list item.

li:nth-last-child(2) {
  color: orange;
}

Result:

nth-last-child second to last

Combining selectors

We can also combine nth-child selectors!

Let's say you want to get every even number from an odd list amount.

<ul>
  <li>Item 1</li>
  <li>Item 2</li>
  <li>Item 3</li>
  <li>Item 4</li>
  <li>Item 5</li>
</ul>
<ul>
  <li>Item 1</li>
  <li>Item 2</li>
  <li>Item 3</li>
  <li>Item 4</li>
  <li>Item 5</li>
</ul>
<ul>
  <li>Item 1</li>
  <li>Item 2</li>
  <li>Item 3</li>
  <li>Item 4</li>
  <li>Item 5</li>
</ul>
ul:nth-child(odd) li:nth-child(even) {
  color: orange;
}

This will get all the odd ul and then all the even li tags.

Result:

nth-child double selector

See all examples in this Codepen to try it out

Have a play around with this Codepen, try and change some selector to see what happens!

See the Pen CSS nth-child selector basics by Chris Bongers (@rebelchris) on CodePen.

Browser Support for nth-child selectors

The nth-child selector has really good support and can be used in most of the browsers. Don't hesitate to make use of them.

nth-child browser support

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