Python Lists

In this tutorial, we will master all about python list, the important features of the list, list creation, list manipulation using slicing operator, various list operations, and so on with the help of examples. Also, we will learn about the nested list.

Among the compound datatypes in python, List is the most versatile and commonly used datatype. A list is a sequence-based datatype with a collection of objects. The objects can be of any type.

Key Features of Python List

  • List are mutable in nature
  • List maintains the order of the objects
  • List supports indexing
  • The list can be heterogeneous
  • List is dynamic
  • The list allows duplicate values
  • The list can be nested

How to define a Python List

In python, the List is defined by encasing a sequence of elements in a square bracket [ ]. Each element is separated using commas. The list can embrace any number of elements and can be of any type. The following example would help you to understand how a list is defined in python.

Empty list: A List with no elements or of length 0.

Example: Defining an empty list

emp_list =[] 

Homogenous list:  A list with elements of the same datatype.

Example: Defining a homogenous list with integer elements

int_list =[10,20,30] 

Heterogeneous or Mixed List: A list with elements of different data types

Example: Defining a mixed list with String, Integer, and Float type elements.

mix_list =['Tom',25,5.9] 

Nested List: A List containing another list.

Example: Defining a nested List

Nest_List = [['Apple', 'Apricot'],['Banana','Blueberry'],"Cherry"]

Indexing & Slicing to access List Items

Like String, items in a list can be accessed either using index [] operator or slicing operator [:].We can consider a list as a dynamic array and so indexing and slicing work well with a python list.

Indexing in python List

Indexing is the process of assigning a number to items in a list for easy access. The index always starts with zero and must be an integer.
Two types of indexing in the python list are :

  • Positive Indexing  – indexing starts with 0 and traverses in a forward direction from head to tail.
  • Negative Indexing – indexing starts with -1 and traverses in the backward direction from tail to head.

To understand thoroughly about indexing let’s consider the example and its visualization. ‘LIST’ is a python list consisting of elements ‘RED’, ‘BLUE’,’ GREEN’ & PINK. Each element in the list is assigned with a number corresponding to their position based on positive and negative indexing as shown below.

Python Indexing
  1. Getting elements through Positive indexing

    It is possible to access the individual items from a list by referring to its index number. The below code shows how to access an item using positive indexing.

    Example: Getting items through positive indexing

    List = ['Red','Blue','Green','Pink']
    List[0]= Red
    List[3]= Pink
  2. Getting elements through Negative indexing

    Python list also supports negative indexing to access items from the tail of a list. Negative indexing always starts from the end of the list with index -1.

    Example: Getting items through negative indexing

    List = ['Red','Blue','Green','Pink']
    List[-1]= Pink
    List[-3]= Blue

Slicing in Python List

Python List also works well with range slice operator [:].Here, using the slice operator we can slice chunks of items from a list as needed. In short, we can create a sublist using the slice operator. The syntax for Range Slice is

L [ m:n]

where L is the list containing the items
        m: starting index
        n: ending index
L[m:n] returns the sublist from the index m to n, but excluding the index n.
Slicing itself can be done in various ways with positive and negative indexing. Slicing can be best expressed by placing the items in the middle of indices as illustrated below.

Python Indexing
  1. List Slicing through positive indexing

    • Slicing of the form :L[m:n] returns the sublist from position m to n, but excluding index n.
      L = ['Red','Blue','Green','Pink','Grey']
      print("L[1:3] =",L[1:3]) 
      L[1:3] = ['Blue', 'Green']
    • Slicing of the form :L[:n]  returns the sublist from starting position by default to n, but excluding index n.
      L = ['Red','Blue','Green','Pink','Grey']
      print("L[:2] =",L[:2]) 
      L[:2] = ['Red', 'Blue']
    • Slicing of the form :L[m:] returns the sublist from the position m to the ending index.
      L = ['Red','Blue','Green','Pink','Grey']
      print("L[2:] =",L[2:]) 
      L[2:] = ['Green', 'Pink', 'Grey']


  2. List Slicing through negative indexing

    • Slicing of the form :L[-m:-n] returns the sublist from position m to n, but excluding index n.
      L = ['Red','Blue','Green','Pink','Grey']
      print("L[-4:-2] =",L[-4:-2]) 
      L[-4:-2] = ['Blue', 'Green']
    • Slicing of the form :L[:n]  returns the sublist  from starting position by default to n, but excluding index n
      L = ['Red','Blue','Green','Pink','Grey']
      print("L[:-2] =",L[:-2]) 
      L[:-2] = ['Red', 'Blue', 'Green']
    • Slicing of the form :L[-m: ] returns the sublist from the position m to the ending index.
      L = ['Red','Blue','Green','Pink','Grey']
      print("L[-4:] =",L[-4:]) 
      L[-4:] = ['Blue', 'Green', 'Pink', 'Grey']

How to modify Python List

One of the prominent features that make List a versatile datatype in the python programming language is that “ List are Mutable”. That means a list can be altered after the list has been created. Python List can be modified by adding, removing, or changing items as needed. Python offers a wide variety of ways to alter a list.

  1. How to Replace items in a Python List?

    Unlike a string, a Python list can be modified by replacing existing items with other items. Indexing makes it easy to replace an item by simply reassigning a new item to the position where we need a change using the assignment operator =. Two possible ways to replace items in a list are:

    • Individual item replacement - we are replacing only one item on the list. In the below example, Red is replaced by Yellow.
      L = ['Red','Blue','Green','Pink','Grey']
      L[0]= 'Yellow'
      print('Modified List is :',L)
      Modified List is : ['Yellow', 'Blue', 'Green', 'Pink', 'Grey']
    • Multiple item replacement - we can replace a range of items in the list. Here, in this instance, Green and Pink is replaced by Orange and Black respectively
      L = ['Red','Blue','Green','Pink','Grey']
      L[2:4]= ['Orange','Black']
      print('List after modificaiton is',L)
      List after modificaiton is ['Red', 'Blue', 'Orange', 'Black', 'Grey']
  2. How to Add items to a Python list?

    Yet another way of modifying the list So additional elements to an existing list. For adding items to a list python has two methods:
    • append() the method is used to add one item to a python list. The syntax is list_name.append(item)
      LF =['Daisy','Rose']
      print("List after appending:",LF) 
      List after appending: ['Daisy', 'Rose', 'Tulip']
    • extend() method is used to add a range of items to a python list. The syntax is list_name.extend([item1, item2,…])
      LF =['Daisy', 'Rose', 'Tulip']
      print("Extend List is:",LF)
      Extend List is: ['Daisy', 'Rose', 'Tulip', 'Orchid', 'Poppy']
    • Moreover, an existing list can be modified by inserting items at a specific location. insert() method is used to insert a particular item at a distinct position in a list. The insert method takes two parameters one for specifying the position and the other for the item. The syntax of insert() is list_name.insert(index, item)

      In the below example, item 20 is inserted at position LN[2].

      LN =[ 10,30]
      [10, 30, 20]
  3. How to Delete items from a Python list?

    So far we have seen the replacement and addition of items in a list, similarity we can delete items from a list. Two common methods to delete items from a list are listed below.
    • Using keyword del : To delete a known item from the existing list or to delete the entire list itself. The syntax is del variable_name
      L = ['Red','Blue','Green','Pink','Grey']
      del L[2];
      print(" List after deleting item at index 2 is:",L)
      List after deleting item at index 2 is: ['Red', 'Blue', 'Pink', 'Grey']
    • Using remove() method: To remove an item from the existing list. The syntax is List_name.remove(item_name).
      L = ['Red','Blue','Green','Pink','Grey']
      print("List after removing item : Blue is:",L)
      List after removing item  Blue is: ['Red', 'Green', 'Pink', 'Grey']
    • Using pop() method: Removes the items at the provided index if the index is given otherwise by default removes and returns the last item. The syntax is  List_name.pop(index) .
      L=[10, 20, 30, 40, 50]
      print("List after removing item at index 1 is :",L)
      print("List after removing the last item is:",L) 
      List after removing item at index 1 is : [10, 30, 40, 50]
      List after removing the last item is: [10, 30, 40]

Python Nested List

So far we have studied the list and its features. Another important feature of a list is its ability to nest. So what do you mean by nesting?

Nesting means storing something inside the other. In python, a nested list is a list containing a list as its element which in turn contains another list.

A nested list is created like how we created the list, the only difference is in the nested list, one or more elements can be a list.

Defining a nested List

Nest_List = [['Apple', 'Apricot'],['Banana','Blueberry'],"Cherry"]


Nested List in Python

The nested list can be represented in a hierarchical structure as follows for better understanding.

Nested List Structure in Python

How to access items from a nested list

Accessing items from a nested list is as simple as referring to multiple indexes. We can either access items using positive indexing or negative indexing.

Accessing items from a nested List using positive indexing

NL = ['a',['bb','cc'],'d',['e',['fff','ggg']],'h','i']


['e', ['fff', 'ggg']]
['fff', 'ggg']

Accessing items using negative indexing

Let's refer to the pictorial representation of the negative indexing of the nested list.

Nested List Structure in Python

Accessing items from a nested List using negative indexing

NL = ['a',['bb','cc'],'d',['e',['fff','ggg']],'h','i']



['e', ['fff', 'ggg']]
['fff', 'ggg']

How to Modify a Nested List

Similarly, we can modify the nested list by

  1. Altering the values using the indexing technique

    changing items in a Nested List

    NL = ['a',['bb','cc'],'d',['e',['fff','ggg']],'h','i']
    NL[1][0]= 0


    ['a', [0, 'cc'], 'd', ['e', ['fff', 'ggg']], 'h', 'i']
  2. Using append() or insert() or extend() methods.

    Adding items in a Nested List

    NNL = ['a',['bb','cc'],'d',['e',['fff','ggg']],'h','i']


    ['a', ['yy', 'bb', 'cc', 'xx'], 'd', ['e', ['fff', 'ggg', 1, 2, 3]], 'h', 'i']
  3. Removing items using pop() ,or remove() or del keyword.

    Removing items in a Nested List

    NL = ['a',['bb','cc'],'d',['e',['fff','ggg']],'h','i']
    print(NL)  #removed items bb
    del NL[3][1][0]
    print(NL)  #removed item fff
    ['a', ['cc'], 'd', ['e', ['fff', 'ggg']], 'h', 'i']
    ['a', ['cc'], 'd', ['e', ['ggg']], 'h', 'i']
    ['a', ['cc'], 'd', ['e', []], 'h', 'i']

Python List Functions

Python list has some built-in functions to perform some usual sequential operations. The basic functions are tabulated below for easy reference.

Function Description
len(List) returns the length of the list
max(List) returns the largest value among the list
min(List) returns the smallest value among the list
compare(L1,L2) compares items in list L1 with items in list L2
list(seq) transforms tuple to a list

Python List Operators and Operations

As learned in the string, Python List also has operators to do some specific operations. The most common operations are given below for better understanding.

  1. Checking Sublist using Membership operator

    A membership operator is used to validate the presence of an item or a sublist in the list. The corresponding result will a truth value either True or False. Two membership operators in python are:

    • in: returns True if item or sublist is present in the provided list
    • not in: returns True if item or sublist is absent in the provided list
    L =[1,2,3,5,6,8]
    print("Validation 3 in List is ",3 in L)
    print("Validation 4 not in List is",4 not in L)


    Validation 3 in List is True
    Validation 4 not in List is True
  2. Concatenation and Repetition of List

    It is also possible to combine two or more separate lists in python. Combining two or more separate lists is termed as concatenation whereas repeating a list multiple times is termed as repetition. The two operators used for concatenation and repetition are:
    • The plus operator (+) is also referred to as the concatenation operator used to join lists
    • The star operator (*)  is also referred to as a repetition operator used to repeat a list.
    L1= ['Red','Orange']
    L2= ['Blue','Green']
    print("Concatenated List is :",L1+L2)
    print("Repeated List is:",L1*3)


    Concatenated List is : ['Red', 'Orange', 'Blue', 'Green']
    Repeated List is: ['Red', 'Orange', 'Red', 'Orange', 'Red', 'Orange']

Python List – Built-in Methods

We are now familiar with some built-in methods like insert(),remove() ,pop() etc. There are few other methods available in the python programming language that works well with list-objects. Methods are accessed using a dot operator like list_name. method_name(parameters).

The basic methods are given in a table for easy reference.

Methods Description
count(p) Returns the count of occurrence of an item in a list passed as a parameter
index(p) Returns the lowest index of the item passed as a parameter
append(p) Appends an item passed as a parameter to the list; Add one item to the tail of the list
extend(list) Extends the list by adding another list.
insert(i,p) Insert a particular item to a specified index where i is the index value and p is the particular item
remove(p)  Removes an item passed as a parameter from the list
pop() By default removes the last item in a list and return the list.
clear() Removes all elements from the list
sort() By default sorts the list items in ascending order.
reverse()  Inverse the order of items in a list
copy()  Returns a shallow or dummy copy of an existing list.