non-physical vs physical tags

on the wiki page for the sport tag (, i see the following:

“Since this is a non-physical tag it should be combined with one of these (physical) tags:”

i tried to find more info about what a non-physical tag is, but had no luck. any clarification on this would be appreciated. thank you.

I think that if you focus on the list of tags just below the sentence you reported, you should better understand the meaning.

You shall use one of these physical tags to be able to add then a sport=* tag.
A sport is played somewhere (in a stadium, sport centre, pitch, …)…


thank you ale. i guess i was specifically wondering whether the physical/non-physical tag difference matters for rendering in osm carto. in other words, do non-physical tagged items get rendered by osm carto? thank you.

To add to what alesarrett said, the “Since this is a non-physical tag” text has been in that page since 2008. My guess is that it’s a translation from German and the sense of the original hasn’t quite got carried over. In English the terms “top-level tag” or “primary tag” are probably more used.

In order to see what the OSM Carto map style currently shows, you can try searching the github source for it. For the tag “sport”, for example:

You can also search for a combination of tags using overpass: That’s looking for the key “sport” without one of the common-top-level tags. For example, is only shown on OSM Carto as a housenumber, not as anything to do with sport.

I don’t think “physical tag” is a well-defined concept. However, you can loosely group OSM tag in two groups: those that indicate what something is, and those that provide additional information. For example,


tells us that there is a road here, but


just tells us that something is 4 meters wide, but not what it is. It is these two groups that are referred to as “physical” and “non-physical” in the text you linked.


is then a non-physical tag, because it tells us that something is used for a particular sport, but not what that something is.

This, almost by definition, means that objects with only non-physical tags are usually not rendered at all, because there is no way of knowing what they are.

“Physical tags” are sometimes also called “top-level tags”. I think I have seen “primary tags” too.

(Is there a list of physical/primary and non-physical/secondary tags? Unfortunately, no. You’ll have to read the documentation of each tag and figure out which group it belongs to.)

thank you everyone, this answers my question! very grateful! :smiley: