List Comprehensions

List comprehensions are a unique way to create lists in Python. A list comprehension consists of brackets containing an expression followed by a for clause, then zero or more for or if clauses. The expressions can be any kind of Python object.

List comprehensions will commonly take the form of [<value> for <vars> in <iter>].

A simple case: Say we want to turn a list of strings into a list of string lengths. We could do this with a for loop:

>>> names = ["Nina", "Max", "Rose", "Jimmy"]
>>> my_list = [] # empty list
>>> for name in names:
...     my_list.append(len(name))
>>> print(my_list)
[4, 3, 4, 5]

We can do this much easier with a concise list comprehension:

>>> names = ["Nina", "Max", "Rose", "Jimmy"]

>>> my_list = [len(name) for name in names]

>>> print(my_list)
[4, 3, 4, 5]

We can also use comprehensions to perform operations, and the lists we assemble can be composed of any type of Python object. For example:

>>> names = ["Nina", "Max", "Rose", "Jimmy"]

>>> my_list = [("length", len(name) * 2) for name in names]

>>> print(my_list)
[('length', 8), ('length', 6), ('length', 8), ('length', 10)]

In the above example, we assemble a list of tuples - each tuple contains the element “length” as well as each number from the len() function multiplied by two.


You can also use conditionals (if statements) in your list comprehensions. For example, to quickly make a list of only the even lengths, you could do:

>>> names = ["Nina", "Max", "Rose", "Jimmy"]

>>> my_list = [len(name) for name in names if len(name) % 2 == 0]

>>> print(my_list)
[4, 4]

Here we divide every string length by 2, and check to see if the remainder is 0 (using the modulo operator).

Split and Join

Strings have two functions for splitting and joining - split() and join(). Calling split() on a string will split the string into a list, creating a new element for every instance of the character(s) you pass in. join() accepts a list of strings, and uses the string you call it on to join the list together into one string. For example:

>>> my_data = "this,is,comma,separated,data"
>>> my_data = my_data.split(",")
>>> print(my_data)
['this', 'is', 'comma', 'separated', 'data']

>>> ":".join(my_data)

>>> ", ".join(my_data)
'this, is, comma, separated, data'

String Joining with a List Comprehension

You can call the string.join() function on any string, pass it a list, and it will spit out a string with every element from the list “joined” by the string. For example, to get a comma-delimited list of numbers, you might be tempted to do:

>>> my_string = ",".join([0, 1, 2, 3, 4])
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
TypeError: sequence item 0: expected str instance, int found

Unfortunately, you can’t join a list of numbers without first converting them to strings. But you can do this easily with a list comprehension:

>>> my_list = [0, 1, 2, 3, 4]
>>> my_string = ",".join([str(num) for num in my_list])
>>> print(my_string)

Note: you can also accomplish the same thing with the map function, a functional programming concept implemented in Python which is outside of the scope of this course.

sum, min, max

Some mathematical functions, such as sum, min, and max, accept lists of numbers to operate on. For example, to get the sum of numbers between zero and five, you could do:

my_sum = sum([0, 1, 2, 3, 4])

But remember, anywhere you can use a list, you can use a list comprehension. Say you want to get sum, minimum, and maximum of every number between 0 and 100 that is evenly divisible by 3? No sense typing out a whole list in advance, just use a comprehension:

>>> my_sum = sum([num for num in range(0, 100) if num % 3 == 0])
>>> print(my_sum)
>>> my_min = min([num for num in range(0, 100) if num % 3 == 0])
>>> print(my_min)
>>> my_max = max([num for num in range(0, 100) if num % 3 == 0])
>>> print(my_max)