What Does “Responsive” Mean? How Do You Pronounce It?

If you are a new web developer or designer, you’ve probably come across the term responsive before. What does it mean? In this post, we’ll discuss the many meanings of the word.

Everyday American English

In everyday English (outside of web development) the word responsive means reacting or replying quickly. It’s most often used when describing people:

The customer service at this hotel is very responsive; my broken lightbulb was fixed immediately.

Responsive Web Design

In the web development world, however, the word responsive has a slightly different meaning. It refers to websites that automatically change their layout to adapt to different screen sizes.

For example, when viewed on a mobile phone, a website will have large font, less content, and other specific features that make it easier to read on a small screen. Likewise, when the same website is viewed on a larger screen, it will have larger images, more text, and so on.

The important thing to realize is that a responsive design is based on the size of the screen and not on specific devices. The design is automatically modified via Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) as the screen size changes.

This is different than adaptive design, which is based on specific “cut-off” points that correspond to common devices. However, the difference between adaptive design and responsive design can be a little confusing. I won’t go into it here, but you can read more about the difference on Tech Republic, CSS-Tricks, and Mozilla.org.

Fortunately, in practice, the word responsive is just used to describe something that works on any device (smartphones, tablets, laptops, large monitors, etc.).

This WordPress theme is responsive.

We need to make our web application responsive.

Read more about responsive web design on Wikipedia.

How Do You Pronounce It?

It’s pretty simple. The word has three syllables:


When followed by web design, the pronunciation doesn’t change:

responsive web design
rɪˈspɑnsɪv wɛb dɪˈzaɪn

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