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Python 3 dictionaries tutorial

tutorial, python


This tutorial will teach you about the dictionary data-structure in Python.


  • Know basics of Python 3 if not read here
  • Knowledge of Computer Science data-structures will help

What are they?

A dictionary is an ordered collection of key-value pairs. Each key added to a dictionary has to be unique, the value assigned to a key does not have to be unique. In Python a dictionary’s key can be any object (objects will be covered in a later tutorial) that is marked “hashable”. For example they could be (but not limited to) an int, string or float data-type. The keys can also be of different data-types inside one dictionary.


First let’s start off by creating a dictionary. Our first dictionary will be simple; it will have a players name as the key and a score (int) as the value.

To create a dictionary we first have to assign it to a variable, in our case it will be called “player_scores”. We then use curly braces to define we are making a dictionary. In our dictionary we will have 3 players these players will be called “Bob”, “Steve” and “Dave”. As you can see our dictionary keys will be strings. Then to create the key-pair we use the colon character to give a value to our key. When we have multiple key-value pairs we use a comma to separate each one.

player_scores = {"Bob": 10, "Steve": 12, "Dave": 5}

When our program is run will will get the dictionary output. This is shown below:

{'Bob': 10, 'Steve': 12, 'Dave': 5}

Accessing Elements

We can access each value in a dictionary by its key, we can achieve this similar to how we access lists.

As you can see from the code below we can access a value by using square brackets, like we do when accessing an index in a list, however this time instead of passing an index we use a value that is a key in the dictionary.

steve_score = player_scores["Steve"]

There are multiple other ways to access a value inside a dictionary. For example using the .get() function

When this is run we should get the output of: 12.

Modifying Elements

Also like a list we can modify a value in a dictionary by using square brackets, and then instead of an index we use a key. Like shown below:

player_scores["Dave"] = 100

When this is run we should see that the “Dave” key is now equal to 100.

{'Bob': 10, 'Steve': 12, 'Dave': 100}

Adding Elements

We can also add a new key-value pair to the dictionary. You may notice that we are using the same statement as modifying a element. However in this case we know that that key-value pair doesn’t exist.

player_scores["John"] = 2

When the code above is run we get the following output:

{'Bob': 10, 'Steve': 12, 'Dave': 100, 'John': 2}

We can see that it has however added a new key-value pair to the dictionary.

Removing Elements

Let’s delete an element from the dictionary. We can delete elements several ways. Like a list we can use “.pop” and the “del” keyword.


This example will show you how to delete an element using the “del” keyword.

del player_scores["John"]

As you can see you simply place the “del” keyword when accessing the player_scores dictionary by a key. When this is run you should get the following output:

{'Bob': 10, 'Steve': 12, 'Dave': 100}

There are other ways of deleting key-value pairs not covered in this tutorial.


A dictionary has a special function that is not included with a list, this method will allow us to clear a dictionary of all key-value pairs.


As you can see when you run this code you will end up with an empty dictionary. You will get the following output:



We can also iterate over the keys in a dictionary.

Iteration is covered in another tutorial here.

player_scores = {"Bob": 10, "Steve": 12, "Dave": 5, "John": 20}

for key in player_scores:
    print(key, "score is", player_scores[key])

As you can see when run we get each key. We can then access the value by using the method shown before in the tutorial.

Bob score is 10
Steve score is 12
Dave score is 5
John score is 20


There is much more to learn about dictionaries, have a look at the official Python documentation for more in-depth knowledge.