11.4. Dictionary methods

Dictionaries have a number of useful built-in methods. The following table provides a summary and more details can be found in the Python Documentation.






Returns a view of the keys in the dictionary



Returns a view of the values in the dictionary



Returns a view of the key-value pairs in the dictionary



Returns the value associated with key; None otherwise



Returns the value associated with key; alt otherwise

As we saw earlier with strings and lists, dictionary methods use dot notation, which specifies the name of the method to the right of the dot and the name of the object on which to apply the method immediately to the left of the dot. The empty parentheses in the case of keys indicate that this method takes no parameters. If x is a variable whose value is a dictionary, x.keys is the method object, and x.keys() invokes the method, returning a view of the value.

The keys method returns the keys, not necessarily in the same order they were added to the dictionary or any other particular order.

It’s so common to iterate over the keys in a dictionary that you can omit the keys method call in the for loop — iterating over a dictionary implicitly iterates over its keys.

The values and items methods are similar to keys. They return the objects which can be iterated over. Note that the item objects are tuples containing the key and the associated value.


Technically, .keys(), .values(), and .items() don’t return actual lists. Like the range function described previously, in python 3 they return objects that produce the items one at a time, rather than producing and storing all of them in advance as a list. Unless the dictionary has a whole lot of keys, this won’t make a difference for performance. In any case, as with the range function, it is safe for you to think of them as returning lists, for most purposes. For the python interpreter built into this textbook, they actually do produce lists. In a native python interpreter, if you print out type(inventory.keys()), you will find that it is something other than an actual list. If you want to get the first key, inventory.keys()[0] works in the online textbook, but in a real python interpreter, you need to make the collection of keys into a real list before using [0] to index into it: list(inventory.keys())[0].

The in and not in operators can test if a key is in the dictionary:

This operator can be very useful since looking up a non-existent key in a dictionary causes a runtime error.

The get method allows us to access the value associated with a key, similar to the [ ] operator. The important difference is that get will not cause a runtime error if the key is not present. It will instead return None. There exists a variation of get that allows a second parameter that serves as an alternative return value in the case where the key is not present. This can be seen in the final example below. In this case, since “cherries” is not a key, return 0 (instead of None).

Check your understanding

    What is printed by the following statements?

    mydict = {"cat":12, "dog":6, "elephant":23, "bear":20}
    answer = mydict.get("cat")//mydict.get("dog")
  • 2
  • get returns the value associated with a given key so this divides 12 by 6.
  • 0.5
  • 12 is divided by 6, not the other way around.
  • bear
  • Take another look at the example for get above. get returns the value associated with a given key.
  • Error, divide is not a valid operation on dictionaries.
  • The integer division operator is being used on the values returned from the get method, not on the dictionary.

    What is printed by the following statements?

    mydict = {"cat":12, "dog":6, "elephant":23, "bear":20}
    print("dog" in mydict)
  • True
  • Yes, dog is a key in the dictionary.
  • False
  • The in operator returns True if a key is in the dictionary, False otherwise.

    What is printed by the following statements?

    mydict = {"cat":12, "dog":6, "elephant":23, "bear":20}
    print(23 in mydict)
  • True
  • 23 is a value in the dictionary, not a key.
  • False
  • Yes, the in operator returns True if a key is in the dictionary, False otherwise.

    What is printed by the following statements?

    total = 0
    mydict = {"cat":12, "dog":6, "elephant":23, "bear":20}
    for akey in mydict:
       if len(akey) > 3:
          total = total + mydict[akey]
  • 18
  • Add the values that have keys longer than 3 characters, not those with exactly 3 characters.
  • 43
  • Yes, the for statement iterates over the keys. It adds the values of the keys that have length greater than 3.
  • 0
  • This is the accumulator pattern. Total starts at 0 but then changes as the iteration proceeds.
  • 61
  • Not all the values are added together. The if statement only chooses some of them.

5. Every four years, the summer Olympics are held in a different country. Add a key-value pair to the dictionary places that reflects that the 2016 Olympics were held in Brazil. Do not rewrite the entire dictionary to do this!

6. We have a dictionary of the specific events that Italy has won medals in and the number of medals they have won for each event. Assign to the variable events a list of the keys from the dictionary medal_events. Do not hard code this.

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