Could you please clear up the meaning of these two words for me?

I don't understand this sentence:

Attributes introduced by RDFA have names. For example, property is one such attribute.

  • 10
    This is surely a programming question, not an English language one. Jun 1, 2011 at 9:51
  • One of my attributes is that I own some property.
    – JeffSahol
    Jun 1, 2011 at 10:25
  • 1
    I think njd nailed it for you. Though property and attribute are synonyms, context is everything. I went to the Wikipedia entry for RDFA and I note that property is indeed the NAME of an attribute ( see: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RDFa#Essence )
    – horatio
    Jun 1, 2011 at 14:40
  • In RDF, property is one of the 11 attributes (as in XML attribute, the other being about, content, datatype, etc). A property is... a Resource that has a name, such as "author" or "homepage". RDF is a proposal from W3C. Don't try to link their wording to meaningful English, they previously invented the concept of "virtual reality" (possibly a bet?!)
    – mins
    Jun 2, 2020 at 17:57

6 Answers 6


Generally, attribute means a particular characteristic or ability which something or someone has, like curly hair or a short temper, or the ability to make really good coffee.
So an applicant for a job might be asked in an interview what attributes they have which would make them suitable.

Property would be used similarly, but usually in discussions of more abstract concepts, like an idea, a branch of mathematics or an economic policy.

E.g. What property of certain regular polygons allows them to be faces of the Platonic Solids?

But for the phrase you mention (the phrase comes from this PDF, a technical document explaining RDF technologies), attribute has a precise technical meaning. If you wanted to express in XML the idea of a kid with a short temper, you might write something like this:

<Kid temper="short"/>

Here the attribute is named "temper", and the value of that attribute is "short".

It's unfortunate that the example you quote suggests an attribute named property, because "attribute" and "property" are used interchangeably in discussions about XML. So when the paragraph you quoted continues with:

Obviously, when we make reference to this attribute, we say attribute property.

it starts to look confusing.

All I can add to clarify it here is to point out that in the code representation (an object in some programming language) we would call "temper" a property, but the corresponding thing in the XML is referred to as an attribute).

I think any further discussion of this really belongs on Stack Overflow.


Both words can be synonyms in one sense. But property may refer to one's belongings, which attribute cannot; and attribute may also be a verb, which is not true of property.


Wikipedia claims attributes are ascribable, whereas properties are possessable:

Quality (philosophy)

  • I don't see that. Perhaps the wikipedia article has changed? Dec 22, 2016 at 20:38
  • Even if "ascribable" and "possessable" are words that don't exists in the article, are clarifying enough.
    – ABu
    Feb 8, 2019 at 1:02

The Wikipedia article on Attribute (computing) describes attribute as a 'property of a property', which somewhat contradicts the RDFA example. At least there both terms are mentioned relative to one another. Having spelled out the above qualification though, the article goes on to describe some specific uses of the two terms in various computer languages, just to demonstrate how interchangeable they both are. My understanding is that attribute is the more formal and accepted term in the computer languages, while property is a more generalized, colloquial synonym with the same meaning.

In XML, for example, in the case of <Kid temper="short"/>, temper would be considered strictly an attribute of the <Kid> tag. If the same is expressed like this:


that would be described as a property.

  • In RDF, property is one of the 11 attributes available for a RDF element (in computer terms, we would say attribute is a class, property is one instance of that class). All these words are chosen somehow arbitrarily, as most of the wording in this area (e.g. a website, a mail address but not a webplace or a mailbox identifier).
    – mins
    Jun 2, 2020 at 18:49

attributes and properties are the same, however, attribute of something is given by people and property is something the a things naturally possess. I think thus attribute can be used as a verb and property cannot. Both property and attribute can be used as a noun, but as a degree of how a thing earns it.

  • could you give an example that demonstrates the difference between: "attribute of something is given by people and property is something the a things naturally possess"? Do you mean that attribute is extrinsic and property is intrinsic? E.g. address of a house is extrinsic (assigned externally) and thus it's an attribute, while material of the house is intrinsic and so it is property (because it describes the nature of the house)?
    – Alexey
    Mar 22, 2017 at 12:37

Look at the fact that attribute has a verb form (from which the noun derives) which would seem to indicate that a thing's attributes come about by virtue of their having been (as it were) bestowed...tending more to descriptive as opposed to strictly innate; and many if not most observed examples of the word's use, even still, bear that out.

A property (noun form only), on the other hand, is some quality which is intrinsic, so is more or less invariable--the invariability resting (for those who would pounce...) on the fact that variablity, itself, would also be a property. (Attributes can change [as if] by whim; properties only in strict accord with innate processes.)

Attribute, like many words, has, itself, the attributed quality of being in "vogue," owing to its greatly expanded "exposure," correctly or not, on the Web. Accordingly, it has grown largely to be deemed, for good or ill, an all-purpose synonym of property.

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