Is there a “previous sibling” selector in CSS? [Answered]

Previous sibling selector in CSS- Answer #1:

No, there is no “previous sibling” selector.

On a related note, ~ is for general successor sibling (meaning the element comes after this one, but not necessarily immediately after) and is a CSS3 selector. + is for next sibling and is CSS2.1.

Answer #2:

I found a way to style all previous siblings (opposite of ~) that may work depending on what you need.

Let’s say you have a list of links and when hovering on one, all the previous ones should turn red. You can do it like this:

/* default link color is blue */
.parent a {
  color: blue;
}

/* prev siblings should be red */
.parent:hover a {
  color: red;
}
.parent a:hover,
.parent a:hover ~ a {
  color: blue;
}
<div class="parent">
  <a href="#">link</a>
  <a href="#">link</a>
  <a href="#">link</a>
  <a href="#">link</a>
  <a href="#">link</a>
</div>

Answer #3:

Selectors level 4 introduces :has() (previously the subject indicator !) which will allow you to select a previous sibling with:

previous:has(+ next) {}

… but at the time of writing, it is some distance beyond the bleeding edge for browser support.

Answer #4:

Consider the order property of flex and grid layouts.

I’ll focus on flexbox in the examples below, but the same concepts apply to Grid.


With flexbox, a previous sibling selector can be simulated.

In particular, the flex order property can move elements around the screen.

Here’s an example:

You want element A to turn red when element B is hovered.

<ul>
    <li>A</li>
    <li>B</li>
</ul>

STEPS

  1. Make the ul a flex container.

    ul { display: flex; }

  1. Reverse the order of siblings in the mark-up.

    <ul> <li>B</li> <li>A</li> </ul>

  1. Use a sibling selector to target Element A (~ or + will do) .

    li:hover + li { background-color: red; }

  1. Use the flex order property to restore the order of siblings on the visual display.

    li:last-child { order: -1; }

…and voilà! A previous sibling selector is born (or at least simulated).

Here’s the full code:

ul {
    display: flex;
}

li:hover + li {
    background-color: red;
}

li:last-child {
    order: -1;
}

/* non-essential decorative styles */
li {
    height: 200px;
    width: 200px;
    background-color: aqua;
    margin: 5px;
    list-style-type: none;
    cursor: pointer;
}
<ul>
    <li>B</li>
    <li>A</li>
</ul>

From the flexbox spec:

5.4. Display Order: the order property

Flex items are, by default, displayed and laid out in the same order as they appear in the source document. The order property can be used to change this ordering.

The order property controls the order in which flex items appear within the flex container, by assigning them to ordinal groups. It takes a single <integer> value, which specifies which ordinal group the flex item belongs to.

The initial order value for all flex items is 0.

Also see order in the CSS Grid Layout spec.


Examples of “previous sibling selectors” created with the flex order property.

.container { display: flex; }

.box5 { order: 1; }    
.box5:hover + .box4 { background-color: orangered; font-size: 1.5em; }

.box6 { order: -4; }
.box7 { order: -3; }
.box8 { order: -2; }
.box9 { order: -1; }
.box9:hover ~ :not(.box12):nth-child(-1n+5) { background-color: orangered;
                                              font-size: 1.5em; }
.box12 { order: 2; }
.box12:hover ~ :nth-last-child(-1n+2) { background-color: orangered;
                                        font-size: 1.5em; }
.box21 { order: 1; }
.box21:hover ~ .box { background-color: orangered; font-size: 1.5em; }

/* non-essential decorative styles */
.container {
    padding: 5px;
    background-color: #888;
}
.box {
    height: 50px;
    width: 75px;
    margin: 5px;
    background-color: lightgreen;
    display: flex;
    justify-content: center;
    align-items: center;
    text-align: center;
    cursor: pointer;
}
<p>
Using the flex <code>order</code> property to construct a previous sibling selector
</p>

<div class="container">
    <div class="box box1"><span>1</span></div>
    <div class="box box2"><span>2</span></div>
    <div class="box box3"><span>3</span></div>
    <div class="box box5"><span>HOVER ME</span></div>
    <div class="box box4"><span>4</span></div>
</div>

<br>

<div class="container">
    <div class="box box9"><span>HOVER ME</span></div>
    <div class="box box12"><span>HOVER ME</span></div>
    <div class="box box6"><span>6</span></div>
    <div class="box box7"><span>7</span></div>
    <div class="box box8"><span>8</span></div>
    <div class="box box10"><span>10</span></div>
    <div class="box box11"><span>11</span></div>
</div>

<br>

<div class="container">
    <div class="box box21"><span>HOVER ME</span></div>
    <div class="box box13"><span>13</span></div>
    <div class="box box14"><span>14</span></div>
    <div class="box box15"><span>15</span></div>
    <div class="box box16"><span>16</span></div>
    <div class="box box17"><span>17</span></div>
    <div class="box box18"><span>18</span></div>
    <div class="box box19"><span>19</span></div>
    <div class="box box20"><span>20</span></div>
</div>

A Side Note – Two Outdated Beliefs about CSS

Flexbox is shattering long-held beliefs about CSS.

One such belief is that a previous sibling selector is not possible in CSS.

As described above, this belief is not entirely true. A previous sibling selector can be simulated in CSS using the flex order property.

The z-index Myth

Another long-standing belief has been that z-index works only on positioned elements.

In fact, the most current version of the spec – the W3C Editor’s Draft – still asserts this to be true:

9.9.1 Specifying the stack level: the z-index property

z-index

  • Value: auto | | inherit
  • Initial: auto
  • Applies to: positioned elements
  • Inherited: no
  • Percentages: N/A
  • Media: visual
  • Computed value: as specified

(emphasis added)

In reality, however, this information is obsolete and inaccurate.

Elements that are flex items or grid items can create stacking contexts even when position is static.

4.3. Flex Item Z-Ordering

Flex items paint exactly the same as inline blocks, except that order-modified document order is used in place of raw document order, and z-index values other than auto create a stacking context even if position is static.

5.4. Z-axis Ordering: the z-index property

The painting order of grid items is exactly the same as inline blocks, except that order-modified document order is used in place of raw document order, and z-index values other than auto create a stacking context even if position is static.

Answer #5:

I had the same question, but then I had a “duh” moment. Instead of writing

x ~ y

write

y ~ x

Obviously this matches “x” instead of “y”, but it answers the “is there a match?” question, and simple DOM traversal may get you to the right element more efficiently than looping in javascript.

I realize that the original question was a CSS question so this answer is probably completely irrelevant, but other Javascript users may stumble on the question via search as I did.

Answer #6:

You can use the two axe selectors: ! and ?

There are 2 subsequent sibling selectors in conventional CSS:

  • + is the immediate subsequent sibling selector
  • ~ is the any subsequent sibling selector

In conventional CSS, there is no previous sibling selector.

However, in the axe CSS post-processor library, there are 2 previous sibling selectors:

  • ? is the immediate previous sibling selector (opposite of +)
  • ! is the any previous sibling selector (opposite of ~)

Working Example:

In the example below:

  • .any-subsequent:hover ~ div selects any subsequent div
  • .immediate-subsequent:hover + div selects the immediate subsequent div
  • .any-previous:hover ! div selects any previous div
  • .immediate-previous:hover ? div selects the immediate previous div
div {
  display: inline-block;
  width: 60px;
  height: 100px;
  color: rgb(255, 255, 255);
  background-color: rgb(255, 0, 0);
  text-align: center;
  vertical-align: top;
  cursor: pointer;
  opacity: 0;
  transition: opacity 0.6s ease-out;
}

code {
  display: block;
  margin: 4px;
  font-size: 24px;
  line-height: 24px;
  background-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.5);
}

div:nth-of-type(-n+4) {
  background-color: rgb(0, 0, 255);
}

div:nth-of-type(n+3):nth-of-type(-n+6) {
  opacity: 1;
}

.any-subsequent:hover ~ div,
.immediate-subsequent:hover + div,
.any-previous:hover ! div,
.immediate-previous:hover ? div {
  opacity: 1;
}
<h2>Hover over any of the blocks below</h2>

<div></div>
<div></div>

<div class="immediate-previous">Hover for <code>?</code> selector</div>
<div class="any-previous">Hover for <code>!</code> selector</div>
<div class="any-subsequent">Hover for <code>~</code> selector</div>
<div class="immediate-subsequent">Hover for <code>+</code> selector</div>

<div></div>
<div></div>

<script src="https://rouninmedia.github.io/axe/axe.js"></script>

Hope you learned something from this post.

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