Dictionaries and lists share the following characteristics:

  • Both are mutable.
  • Both are dynamic. They can grow and shrink as needed.
  • Both can be nested. A list can contain another list. A dictionary can contain another dictionary. A dictionary can also contain a list, and vice versa.

Dictionaries differ from lists primarily in how elements are accessed:

  • List elements are accessed by their position in the list, via indexing.
  • Dictionary elements are accessed via keys.

What is dictionary in Python?

Python dictionary is an unordered collection of elements. While other compound data types have only value as an element, a dictionary has a key:value pair.

Dictionaries are optimised to retrieve values when the key is known.

Defining a Dictionary

Dictionaries are Python’s implementation of a data structure that is more generally known as an associative array. A dictionary consists of a collection of key-value pairs. Each key-value pair maps the key to its associated value.

You can define a dictionary by enclosing a comma-separated list of key-value pairs in curly braces ({}). A colon (:) separates each key from its associated value:

dict = {
    <key>: <value>,
    <key>: <value>,
    <key>: <value>

The following defines a dictionary that maps a location to the name of its corresponding Major League Baseball team:

mlb_team = {
     'Colorado' : 'Rockies',
     'Boston'   : 'Red Sox',
     'Minnesota': 'Twins',
     'Milwaukee': 'Brewers',
     'Seattle'  : 'Mariners'

You can also construct a dictionary with the built-in dict() function. The argument to dict() should be a sequence of key-value pairs. A list of tuples works well for this:

d = dict([
    (<key>, <value>),
    (<key>, <value),
    (<key>, <value>)
mlb_team = dict([
     ('Colorado', 'Rockies'),
     ('Boston', 'Red Sox'),
     ('Minnesota', 'Twins'),
     ('Milwaukee', 'Brewers'),
     ('Seattle', 'Mariners')

If the key values are simple strings, they can be specified as keyword arguments. So here is yet another way to define mlb_team:

mlb_team = dict(
     Boston='Red Sox',

Once you’ve defined a dictionary, you can display its contents, the same as you can do for a list. All three of the definitions shown above appear as follows when displayed:



<class 'dict'>

{'Colorado': 'Rockies', 'Boston': 'Red Sox', 'Minnesota': 'Twins',
'Milwaukee': 'Brewers', 'Seattle': 'Mariners'}

Indexing do not work on dictionaries



KeyError                                  Traceback (most recent call last)
<ipython-input-28-6ab878e87e84> in <module>()
----> 1 print(mlb_team[0])

KeyError: 0

How to access elements from a dictionary?

While indexing is used with other container types to access values, dictionary uses keys. Key can be used either inside square brackets or with the get() method.

The difference while using get() is that it returns None instead of KeyError, if the key is not found.

my_dict = {'name':'John Legend', 'age': 79}

# method 1

# method 2


# method 1 output
John Legend

# method 2 output

How to change or add elements in a dictionary?

Dictionary are mutable. We can add new elements or change the value of existing elements using assignment operator.

If the key is already present, value gets updated, else a new key: value pair is added to the dictionary.

Update a value

my_dict = {'name':'John', 'age': 72}

# update a value
my_dict['age'] = 27



{'name': 'John', 'age': 27}

Add an element (key and value pair)

my_dict = {'name':'John', 'age': 72}

# add element
my_dict['address'] = 'Krakow'  



{'name': 'John', 'age': 72, 'address': 'Krakow'}

Delete elements

We can remove a particular element in a dictionary by using the method pop(). This method removes an element with the provided key and returns the value.

The method, popitem() can be used to remove and return an arbitrary or last element (key, value) from the dictionary. All the elements can be removed at once using the clear() method.

We can also use the del keyword to remove individual elements or the entire dictionary itself.


pop() method expects a location of the key and value pair. Index in dictionary starts from ONE.

# create a dictionary
tens = {1:10, 2:20, 3:30, 4:40, 5:50}  

# remove a particular element

# The remaining dictionary pairs


# print(tens.pop(2))

# print(tens)
{1: 10, 3: 30, 4: 40, 5: 50}


popitem() remove the last key and value pair from the dictionary.

# create a dictionary
tens = {1:10, 2:20, 3:30, 4:40, 5:50}

# remove a particular element

# The remaining dictionary pairs


# print(tens.popitem())
(5, 50)

# print(tens)
{1: 10, 2: 20, 3: 30, 4: 40}


You can use del method to delete a key and value pair based on the index location, remember index starts from ONE in the dictionaries. You can use del to delete the whole dictionary as well.

# create a dictionary
tens = {1:10, 2:20, 3:30, 4:40, 5:50}

# delete a particular element
del tens[2]  



# print(tens)
{1: 10, 3: 30, 4: 40, 5: 50}


clear() method can be use to delete all key and pair values in the dictionary, it returns an empty dictionary.

# create a dictionary
tens = {1:10, 2:20, 3:30, 4:40, 5:50}

# remove all elements



# print(tens)

Python Dictionary Methods

Methods that are available with dictionary are tabulated below. Some of them have already been used in the above examples.

clear()Remove all elements form the dictionary.
copy()Return a shallow copy of the dictionary.
fromkeys(seq[, v])Return a new dictionary with keys from seq and value equal to v (defaults to None).
get(key[,d])Return the value of key. If key doesnot exit, return d (defaults to None).
items()Return a new view of the dictionary’s elements (key, value).
keys()Return a new view of the dictionary’s keys.
pop(key[,d])Remove the element with key and return its value or d if key is not found. If d is not provided and key is not found, raises KeyError.
popitem()Remove and return a random element (key, value). Raises KeyError if the dictionary is empty.
setdefault(key[,d])If key is in the dictionary, return its value. If not, insert key with a value of d and return d (defaults to None).
update([other])Update the dictionary with the key/value pairs from other, overwriting existing keys.
values()Return a new view of the dictionary’s values

Python Dictionary Comprehension

Dictionary comprehension is an elegant and concise way to create new dictionary from an iterable in Python.

Dictionary comprehension consists of an expression pair (key: value) followed by for statement inside curly brackets {}.

Here is an example to make a dictionary with each item being a pair of a number and its square.

tens = {x: x*10 for x in range(1, 6)}


{1: 10, 2: 20, 3: 30, 4: 40, 5: 50}

A dictionary comprehension can optionally contain more for or if statements.

An optional if statement can filter out items to form the new dictionary.

tens = {x: x*10 for x in range(1, 20) if x%3==1}


# print(tens)
{1: 10, 4: 40, 7: 70, 10: 100, 13: 130, 16: 160, 19: 190}

Source: Original (and longer) article is from realpython.