Before & after pseudo elements

Every HTML element in the code is actually composed of 3 separate elements—two of them are just hidden by default.

The hidden elements

Every element has two hidden elements, called pseudo elements, that can be styled and used to create interesting effects.

The elements are named ::before and ::after because of where they’re positioned by default.

Just like every HTML element, they aren’t visible because they don’t have any content inside them.

Adding content

To add content inside the pseudo-element use the content property.

div::before {
	content: " "; /* A space */

.box::after {
	content: "Dino"; /* The word "Dino" */

Styling before & after

After adding content to the pseudo-elements they are visible. We can now treat the elements like any other HTML element and style them with any property we want.

.box::after {
	content: "Dino";
	display: inline-block;
	padding: 0.5em;
	background-color: darkgreen;
	border-radius: 8px;

Positioning before & after

We can even us the standard positioning, floating, etc. to move them around.

They are technically inside their parent element, so position: relative and position: absolute rules apply.

<div class="box">…</div>
.box {
	position: relative;

.box::before {
	content: "Dino";
	background-color: darkgreen;
	position: absolute;
	top: -1.5rem;
	left: -5em;

Where have I seen this before?

You may remember seeing us use ::before and ::after in a few other places previously:

  1. When setting up our website to use border-box
  2. As a clearfix when floating elements

Making custom bullets

The default bullets associated with unordered lists in HTML are hard to style. With ::before and ::after we can replace them with our own bullets and get more control over their styling.

<ul class="dinos">

With a <ul> like above, we first need to remove the default bullets before we add our own.

.dinos {
	list-style-type: none;
	padding: 0; /* Maybe remove the padding too */

.dinos li::before {
	content: "·"; /* A middle dot (a small bullet) */
	display: inline-block;
	margin-right: 0.3em;
	color: #ccc;

By targeting the <li> elements we are putting a custom bullet in front of each of them. With ::before we can then assign any style we want to the bullets to differentiate them from the text.

Fancy quotation marks

When making pull quotes on our website it seems unnecessary to have to create an element with a single quotation mark inside it for styling. Before and after come in really handing for this situation.

  <p>In every island of the Aegean Sea are found abundant traces of a vast prehistoric empire.</p>
  <footer>— <cite>James Theodore Bent</cite></footer>

We don’t need to specify the quote marks in the <blockquote> because that element already defines the text as a quote.

Then, in our CSS we just create new quote marks and position them into place.

blockquote {
  position: relative;

blockquote::before {
  content: "“"; /* Real curly quotes */
  font-size: 3rem;
  color: hotpink;
  position: absolute;
  left: -0.6em;
  top: 0;

blockquote::after {
  content: "”"; /* Real curly quotes */
  font-size: 3rem;
  color: hotpink;
  position: absolute;
  right: -0.6em;
  bottom: 0;

Other ideas

  • You can use background-image to insert images into before and after
  • Check out CSS counters to generate numbers
  • Use before and after to make a page curl effect
  • Grab content from attributes using the attr() function


Video list

  1. Before & after: the hidden elements
  2. Before & after: custom bullets
  3. Before & after: quotation marks
  4. Before & after: decorations