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This question is related to programming, but this seemed a better place to post it than Stack Overflow.

To style HTML pages, we frequently deal with positioning, and two common values for the CSS position property are relative and absolute. When answering questions on Stack Overflow, sometimes I wonder how should I refer to those values as adverbs. For example, take this sentence from a question I just answered:

Unless you'll be absolutely positioning something inside the div later

Is this correct English? It sounds strange to me, but "absolute positioning` would also sound strange.

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You could avoid the problem by writing, "Unless you'll be using absolute positioning inside the div later". – MετάEd Jul 24 '12 at 17:27
I think the adverb's in the wrong place. It should be "Unless you'll be positioning something absolutely inside the div later." While "positioning something absolutely" means using absolute rather than relative coordinates, "absolutely be positioning something" means "with 100% probability, you'll be positioning something", and "be absolutely positioning something" sounds wrong because it's unclear which of these you mean. – Peter Shor Jul 24 '12 at 17:28
@PeterShor That makes sense. I'll be more careful when positioning (no pun intended!) my adverbs, I guess that's the source of my confusion. – bfavaretto Jul 24 '12 at 18:05
"What did you do that bfavaretto for?" Also sounds strange, but is perfectly correct english. – Mark Schultheiss Jul 24 '12 at 19:13
up vote 3 down vote accepted

CSS does not necessarily follow the conventions of human language; it is not entirely consistent within itself. Different writers may interpret its properties and rules into different parts of speech when translating it into prose, and the modifiers those properties and rulse accept will differ accordingly. Thus,

  • If the property is treated as a noun, it naturally takes adjective modifiers: the positioning [noun] is absolute [adjective].
  • You could consider the property and rule together as a compound noun: we use absolute positioning [noun]
  • If the property is treated as a verb form, it takes an adverbial modifier: the block is positioned [verb] absolutely [adverb].


  • the elements use an inline [adj.] display [n.] vs. we display [v.] the elements inline[adv.]*
  • we apply a left [adj.] float [n.] to the block vs. we floated [v.] the block left [adv.]
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Thanks, that's very well explained. For some reason, I have no problems with we display [v.] the elements inline[adv.], but the block is positioned [verb] absolutely [adverb] sounds strange, as I stated in my question. Maybe it's because English is not my native language, maybe it's because "absolutely" also has other meaning (as an interjection [?]). Does it sound okay to you? – bfavaretto Jul 24 '12 at 17:52
@bfavaretto It sounds okay to me; I'm sure I've seen it in CSS blogs and the like. In the context of writing about CSS for people in the field, the meaning is clear, as it is with fixed, armenian, widows, groove, clip, or many other words with other meanings and connotations. – choster Jul 24 '12 at 18:16

Absolute is an adjective and is thus used to modify a noun or pronoun. Absolutely is an adverb and is used to modify a verb, adjective or other adverb.

Since you are modifying positioning, which is a verb, absolutely is correct. If you were talking about the position, it would be absolute.

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I would phrase the answer this way:

You added position: relative, but don't seem to need it, either -- unless you intend to apply absolute position to something inside the div at a later point.

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+1 for the ELU part of the question. For the other part, though, you sometimes position something using relative so that it is easier to position something else using absolute inside of it later. See, for example, this technique. – Cameron Jul 24 '12 at 17:43
@Cameron OK, thanks. I think I'll remove the extraneous part of my answer. – Gnawme Jul 24 '12 at 17:52
I was going to explain the CSS thing, but Cameron did that already. Thanks for the phrasing suggestion, it's much better than what I had. I'm editing my answer on SO. – bfavaretto Jul 24 '12 at 17:54

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