Week 3

Types, Lists and Dictonaries


The different kinds (or representations) of data which programming languages are able to store and manipulate are referred to as types, and we have already encountered a few of these.

Simple Types

The types we've encountered so far can be though of as the building blocks for more complicated types - in the same way you might think of a string as being built out of characters.

These "simple" types are shown in the following example:

# Basic Types
a_string = "Hello World"
a_character = "Z" # Characters are strings of length 1
a_integer = 32
a_float = 18.032
a_boolean = True  # Booleans are just integers 1 (True) or 0 (False)

Little tip:

another_bool = (242 == "frog") # False

Fun fact: Booleans are actually implemented as integers, with 1 = True and 0 = False:

if 0:
    print("I won't get printed")
    print("I will!")


Python, like many other languages, has the ability to transform one type of data to another - although it will only work if this conversion makes sense. For example, you could convert a string containing a number to an integer:

# Suppose the user gave us a number via input()
user_number = "12314"

# Cast the string to an integer and store the result
user_number_converted = int(user_number)

But, if you tried to convert a string containing letters or symbols to a number, python will get confused and throw an error (see extension material for more detail). Here's an example that results in an error:

# Can only cast to other types if compatible
user_input = "Woops"

# Trying to cast this str -> int will cause a "ValueError"
user_input_converted = int(user_input)

For reference, here's a table of casts that can (and will) come in handy:



Example Use case

Integer Number


Do maths on user input

Floating Point Number


Output numbers with decimal places



Concatenate numbers with text when printing



(Not often in practice - output formatting?)



Convert integer to ASCII character [string]



Convert tuples / arrays / range() objects to lists


Lists are the first proper "data structure" that we will cover:

  • Lists allow us to store multiple values in one object

  • Lists can change size without us needing to re-declare them all the time

  • Lists can also be used for carrying out vector and matrix arithmetic (though in practice there are libraries like numpy which are far better for such things

Lists are created by using square brackets, [], and in python they can contain multiple different types of items:

# Create an empty list
my_first_list = []

# Create a list containing some items
my_second_list = [1, 423.32, "Hiya", True]

Accessing list items

In python (and many other programming languages) we count from 0. So the first item in a list is always at the "zeroeth" position. For example:

# Create a list
some_list = [0, 1, 2, 3, "Great Movie", 8, 13]

Can be visualized as:

Then. If we wish to get items from a specific location in our list, we can do this by using square brackets next to the list's name: e.g. list[index]

print(some_list[4]) # Print the fifth element
# outputs: Great Movie

A more involved example:

# A great reference
sentence = ["A", "Wizard", "Is","Never","Late","!"]

# Explicity store specific elements in new variables
first_word = sentence[0]
second_word = sentence[1]
fifth_word = sentence[4]

print(first_word + " " + fifth_word + " " + second_word)
# outputs: A Late Wizard


To add items to the end of a list, we use the .append() function:

my_list = []

# Now my_list = ["hello"]


We can remove items from a list by using .pop(index) to remove the item at the specified index. (Note: the function also returns the value that it removes)

my_list = [3, 5, 2, 6, 4]

# Now my_list = [3, 5, 6, 4]

Reverse Iteration

If you want to iterate backwards through a list, the following syntax allows it.

# Strings are effectively lists of characters
the_dream = "desserts"
university = the_dream[::-1] # We can go backwards too

This syntax is a special case of a general language feature called list slicing (see extensions for detail).

List Operations

We can add (concatenate) and multiply lists using the familiar + and * operators:

# Concatenate two lists
list_one = ["One", "Two", "Three"]
list_two = [4, 5, 6]
new_list = list_one + list_two
print(new_list) # ["One", "Two", "Three", 4, 5, 6]
# Multiplying a list
my_list = ["All", "Work", "And", "No", "Play",
           "Makes", "Alex", "A", "Dull", "Boy"]
new_list = my_list * 20
print(new_list) # ["All", "Work" .......... x20 ]


Along with lists, dictionaries are among the most useful and commonly used data structures. Dictionaries allow us to store Key : Value pairs.

Whereas lists are created using [], we create dictionaries using {}

# Create an empty dictionary
empty_dict = {}

# Create a dictionary with some info inside
my_dict = {"name" : "alex", "age" : 22, 1 : "one"}

Adding Elements

To add elements to a dictionary we again use the square bracket syntax, except with a key rather than an index:


empty_dict["first key"] = 23123
empty_dict["second key"] = "hello"

# Now empty_dict = {"first key" : 23123, "second key": "hello"}

Keys in a dictionary must be unique. If a key already exists in the dictionary, then its corresponding value will be overridden when you assign it:

my_dict["hello"] = 2312
my_dict["hello"] = -17

# Now my_dict = {"hello" : -17}


Similar to with lists, we can use .pop(key) on a dictionary to remove a key-value pair; usefully, the function also returns the value which it is removing, so we can print it or store it somewhere else.

my_dict = {"hello" : 231, "fish" : "frog"}

# Remove the key-value pair corresponding to "hello"

# Now my_dict = {"fish" : "frog"}


They .keys() (member) function can be called on a dictionary to get a list of its keys:

my_dict = {"hello" : 231, "fish" : "frog"}

my_keys = my_dict.keys()
# then my_keys = ["hello", "fish"]

Used alongside in (see extensions) this provides us with an easy way of checking whether we have already stored a particular key in our dictionary - useful for a username:password database!

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