Control structures

This chapter will discuss various operators used in conditional expressions, followed by control structures.

Comparison operators

These operators yield True or False boolean values as a result of comparison between two values.

>>> 0 != '0'
>>> 0 == int('0')
>>> 'hi' == 'Hi'

>>> 4 > 3.14
>>> 4 >= 4

>>> 'bat' < 'at'
>>> 2 <= 3

info Python is a strictly typed language. So, unlike context-based languages like Perl, you have to explicitly use type conversion when needed. As an exercise, try using any of the < or <= or > or >= operators between numeric and string values.

info See docs.python: Comparisons and docs.python: Operator precedence for documentation and other details.

Truthy and Falsy values

The values by themselves have Truthy and Falsy meanings when used in a conditional context. You can use the bool() built-in function to explicitly convert them to boolean values.

Numerical value zero, empty string and None are Falsy. Non-zero numbers and non-empty strings are Truthy. See docs.python: Truth Value Testing for a complete list.

>>> type(True)
<class 'bool'>
>>> type(False)
<class 'bool'>

>>> bool(4)
>>> bool(0)
>>> bool(-1)

>>> bool('')
>>> bool('hi')

>>> bool(None)

Boolean operators

Use and and or boolean operators to combine comparisons. The not operator is useful to invert a condition.

>>> 4 > 3.14 and 2 <= 3

>>> 'hi' == 'Hi' or 0 != '0'

>>> not 'bat' < 'at'
>>> num = 0
>>> not num

The and and or operators are also known as short-circuit operators. These will evaluate the second expression if and only if the first one evaluates to True and False respectively. Also, these operators return the result of the expressions used, which can be a non-boolean value. The not operator always returns a boolean value.

>>> num = 5
# here, num ** 2 will NOT be evaluated
>>> num < 3 and num ** 2
# here, num ** 2 will be evaluated as the first expression is True
>>> num < 10 and num ** 2
# not operator always gives a boolean value
>>> not (num < 10 and num ** 2)

>>> 0 or 3
>>> 1 or 3

Comparison chaining

You can chain comparison operators, which is similar to mathematical notations. Apart from terser conditional expression, this also has the advantage of having to evaluate the middle expression only once.

>>> num = 5

# using boolean operator
>>> num > 3 and num <= 5

# comparison chaining
>>> 3 < num <= 5
>>> 4 < num > 3
>>> 'bat' < 'cat' < 'cater'

Membership operator

The in comparison operator checks if a given value is part of a collection of values. Here's an example with range() function:

>>> num = 5
# range() will be discussed in detail later in this chapter
# this checks if num is present among the integers 3 or 4 or 5
>>> num in range(3, 6)

You can build your own collection of values using various data types like list, set, tuple etc. These data types will be discussed in detail in later chapters.

>>> num = 21
>>> num == 10 or num == 21 or num == 33
# RHS value here is a tuple data type
>>> num in (10, 21, 33)

>>> 'cat' not in ('bat', 'mat', 'pat')

When applied to strings, the in operator performs substring comparison.

>>> fruit = 'mango'
>>> 'an' in fruit
>>> 'at' in fruit


Similar to function definition, control structures require indenting its body of code. And, there's a : character after you specify the conditional expression. You should be already familiar with if and else keywords from other programming languages. Alternate conditional branches are specified using the elif keyword. You can nest these structures and each branch can have one or more statements.

Here's an example of if-else structure within a user defined function. Note the use of indentation to separate different structures. Examples with elif keyword will be seen later.

def isodd(n):
    if n % 2:
        return True
        return False

print(f'{isodd(42) = }')
print(f'{isodd(-21) = }')
print(f'{isodd(123) = }')

Here's the output of the above program.

$ python3.9
isodd(42) = False
isodd(-21) = True
isodd(123) = True

As an exercise, reduce the isodd() function body to a single statement instead of four. This is possible with features already discussed in this chapter, the ternary operator discussed in the next section would be an overkill.

info Python doesn't support the switch control structure. See stackoverflow: switch statement in Python? for workarounds. Pattern matching, a powerful alternative to switch, will be part of Python from version 3.10 onwards.

Ternary operator

Python doesn't support the traditional ?: ternary operator syntax. Instead, it uses if-else keywords in the same line as illustrated below.

def absolute(num):
    if num >= 0:
        return num
        return -num

The above if-else structure can be rewritten using ternary operator as shown below:

def absolute(num):
    return num if num >= 0 else -num

Or, just use the abs() built-in function, which has support for complex numbers, fractions, etc. Unlike the above program, abs() will also handle -0.0 correctly.

info See stackoverflow: ternary conditional operator for other ways to emulate the ternary operation in Python. True and False boolean values are equivalent to 1 and 0 in integer context. So, for example, the above ternary expression can also be written as (-num, num)[num >= 0].

for loop

Counter based loop can be constructed using the range() built-in function and the in operator. The range() function can be called in the following ways:

range(start, stop)
range(start, stop, step)

Both ascending and descending order arithmetic progression can be constructed using these variations. When skipped, default values are start=0 and step=1. For understanding purposes, a C like code snippet is shown below:

# ascending order
for(i = start; i < stop; i += step)

# descending order
for(i = start; i > stop; i += step)

Here's a sample multiplication table:

>>> num = 9
>>> for i in range(1, 5):
...     print(f'{num} * {i} = {num * i}')
9 * 1 = 9
9 * 2 = 18
9 * 3 = 27
9 * 4 = 36

The range, list, tuple, str data types (and some more) fall under sequence types. There are multiple operations that are common to these types (see docs.python: Common Sequence Operations for details). For example, you could iterate over these types using the for loop. The start:stop:step slicing operation is another commonality among these types. You can test your understanding of slicing syntax by converting range to list or tuple type.

>>> list(range(5))
[0, 1, 2, 3, 4]

>>> list(range(2, 11, 2))
[2, 4, 6, 8, 10]

>>> list(range(120, 99, -4))
[120, 116, 112, 108, 104, 100]

As an exercise, create this arithmetic progression -2, 1, 4, 7, 10, 13 using the range() function. Also, see what value you get for each iteration of for c in 'hello'.

while loop

Use while loop when you want to execute statements as long as the condition evaluates to True. Here's an example:

count = int(input('Enter a positive integer: '))
while count > 0:
    count -= 1


Here's a sample run of the above script:

$ python3.9
Enter a positive integer: 3

info Python doesn't support ++ or -- operations. As shown in the above program, combining arithmetic operations with assignment is supported.

break and continue

The break statement is useful to quit the current loop immediately. Here's an example where you can keep getting the square root of a number until you enter an empty string. Recall that empty string is Falsy.

>>> while True:
...     num = input('enter a number: ')
...     if not num:
...         break
...     print(f'square root of {num} is {float(num) ** 0.5:.4f}')
enter a number: 2
square root of 2 is 1.4142
enter a number: 3.14
square root of 3.14 is 1.7720
enter a number: 

info See also stackoverflow: breaking out of nested loops.

When continue is used, further statements are skipped and the next iteration of the loop is started, if any. This is frequently used in file processing when you need to skip certain lines like headers, comments, etc.

>>> for num in range(10):
...     if num % 3:
...         continue
...     print(f'{num} * 2 = {num * 2}')
0 * 2 = 0
3 * 2 = 6
6 * 2 = 12
9 * 2 = 18

As an exercise, use appropriate range() logic so that the if statement is no longer needed.

info See docs.python: break, continue, else for more details and the curious case of else clause in loops.

Assignment expression

Quoting from docs.python: Assignment expressions:

An assignment expression (sometimes also called a “named expression” or “walrus”) assigns an expression to an identifier, while also returning the value of the expression.

The while loop snippet from the previous section can be re-written using the assignment expression as shown below:

>>> while num := input('enter a number: '):
...     print(f'square root of {num} is {float(num) ** 0.5:.4f}')
enter a number: 2
square root of 2 is 1.4142
enter a number: 3.14
square root of 3.14 is 1.7720
enter a number: 

info See PEP 572: Assignment Expressions and my book on regular expressions for more details and examples.


  • If you don't already know about FizzBuzz, read Using FizzBuzz to Find Developers who Grok Coding and implement it in Python. See also Why Can't Programmers.. Program?
  • Print all numbers from 1 to 1000 (inclusive) which reads the same in reversed form in both binary and decimal format. For example, 33 in decimal is 100001 in binary and both of these are palindromic. You can either implement your own logic or search online for palindrome testing in Python.
  • Write a function that returns the maximum nested depth of curly braces for a given string input. For example, '{{a+2}*{{b+{c*d}}+e*d}}' should give 4. Unbalanced or wrongly ordered braces like '{a}*b{' and '}a+b{' should return -1.

If you'd like more exercises to test your understanding, check out these excellent resources: