In HTML5, the <small> tag "represents side comments such as small print...typically features disclaimers, caveats, legal restrictions, or copyrights." 1

We use this as a footnote to a table, for photography credit, etc. However, our SiteImprove accessibility checker is flagging an error:

Do not use the 'small' tag to alter text size. Use semantic elements to indicate emphasis or structure, and CSS to handle styling.

We use CSS to reduce the font-size so is this incorrect? Should <small> retain the normal font-size to remain an accessible user experience?

  • 7
    It's probably flagging that as a warning rather than an error. It's reminding you that you should only use the <small> element for its correct semantic purpose and not only as a way to reduce the size of text.
    – Matt Obee
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 11:31
  • Thanks @Matt Obee. It is being classed as an error but I guess it doesn't apply in this case, seeing as we are using for disclaimers and copyright info. So, I guess <small> - as long as being used semantically - can be small in size.
    – neil
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 13:17
  • Is there a specific reason SiteImprove doesn't like altered text sizes? Small should be used for semantic purposes but those purposes normally desire a smaller font size, hence the name of the element.
    – jazZRo
    Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 13:01
  • <small> will be considered accessible as long as it's used meaningfully. Your styling of it (or any other element) will not affect client parsers, (though you'd want to make sure it's still readable for humans). Your use of it seems correct.
    – Phil Tune
    Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 16:01

2 Answers 2


The small tag has been somewhat repurposed for HTML5 and it sounds like SiteImprove has made older assumptions about it.

I would however avoid small for the uses you mentioned.

For example, a table footnote may be better as a tfoot and a credit on a photo could be a figcaption inside a figure. The tags can all be styled with CSS and are a better fit semantically.


Interesting debate about the usage of <small>. Your usage of it may be correct, I have a feeling that SiteImprove is just mentioning it as a warning.

However if you look up the w3 spec, they have examples of what footnotes should look like


Notice neither contained the <small> tag. My understanding is that is more for disclaimers and legal notices. It is also uncommon since screen readers will not treat it any differently

  • Ah, by 'footnote', I really meant 'accompanying text immediately underneath', not at the end of the document. So, yep, for proper footnotes it seems that <small> might be incorrect. For 'accompanying text', however, I guess <small> is suitable.
    – neil
    Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 13:39

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