Topic #10 – Tuples, Dictionaries, and Sets

  • So far we have seen lists and numpy arrays.

  • Let’s have a look at a few more.


  • A tuple looks a lot like a list, but with () instead of []:

    >>> tup = (5,3)
    >>> print(tup)
    (5, 3)
  • Handy for storing something like an (x,y) co-ordinate pair.

  • If a tuple is exactly like a list, why would I use it? It must be different somehow


Figure out how tuples differ from lists (other than using different types of brackets!).

Some questions you might ask: Are tuples mutable? Do tuples have built in functions? (e.g., something like tup.max()?)

  • So why would you ever use a tuple instead of a list?

  • Well, you don’t have to. Anything you can do with tuples, you can do with lists. But, because they are immutable:
    • Tuples are faster

    • Tuples prevent you from overwriting something that shouldn’t be overwritten

Here is a pretty cool use of numpy arrays and tuples

>>> a = numpy.arange(25).reshape(5,5)
>>> print(a)
[[ 0  1  2  3  4]
 [ 5  6  7  8  9]
 [10 11 12 13 14]
 [15 16 17 18 19]
 [20 21 22 23 24]]
>>> print(a[1,2])
  • Ok, so far the above is not really anything special.

  • But let’s say I was asking someone to give me like a (x,y) coordinate.

    >>> coord = (1, 2)
  • So above we’re storing it as a tuple. Nothing special so far here either.

    >>> print(a[coord])
  • Woah! We just indexed a numpy array wit a tuple!
    • Note that the origin in this situation is top left, not bottom left.


  • Python Dictionaries are a more complex data structure than what we’ve seen so far.

  • But… they are very very very very very very very very useful.

  • Imagine a list which you can index with strings instead of numbers.

  • That’s a dictionary.

  • Let’s create an empty dictionary:

    >>> my_dict = {}
  • Looks like an empty list, but using {} instead of [].

  • How do I add something?

    >>> my_dict['James']=50
    >>> print(my_dict)
    {'James': 50}
  • The dictionary has associated the key James with the value 50.

  • Maybe this is a dictionary of grades? I need to work harder.

  • Let’s add more:

    >>> my_dict['Suzy'] = 95
    >>> my_dict['Johnny'] = 85
    >>> print(my_dict)
    {'James': 50, 'Suzy': 95, 'Johnny': 85}
  • Dictionaries always associate a key with a value.
    • dict[key] = value


Build the dictionary my_dict above.

Figure out how to access the value associated with a particular key, without printing out the whole dictionary (e.g., how would I print just Suzy’s grade?).

Hint: it’s a lot like indexing a list or array or tuple…

What happens if I try to index the dictionary with a key that doesn’t exist?

  • Dictionaries are a generalization of lists:
    • A list associates fixed indices from 0 up to n with values.

    • A dictionary associates arbitrary strings with values.


Now type my_dict. and hit the [Tab] key. Play around with the built-in functions for dictionaries.

Take special care to look at:

  • my_dict.keys()

  • my_dict.values()

I wonder if there is an easy way to iterate over the contents of a dictionary?

  • This is really useful for humans because it’s much easier for us to assign names to things than to try to remember arbitrary numberings.

  • Many programming languages have nothing like dictionaries. In some others you’ll see them called “associative arrays” or “associative memories”.
    • In some, we have to make them ourselves

  • We’ve just scratched the surface of what you can do with dictionaries here, but it’s enough for our purposes right now.

So Why Are They Great?

  • Imagine we have a 2D list like this:

1 # Creates some lookup table list thing
2 grades = [['James', 98], ['Bob', 86], ['Janice', 86], ['Greg', 59]]
  • How would we get the grade for any given student?
    • Linear search, right!

    • So there is nothing wrong with this, but… there’s a better way!

  • With a dictionary, we can simply do this!

1 # Creates some lookup table list thing
2 grades = {'James':98, 'Bob':86, 'Janice':86, 'Greg':59}
  • How would we get the grade for any given student?
    • Just index the dictionary!

    • Way better!

Are They Actually Better?

  • Remember how the in keyword allowed us to do a linear search really easily.

  • It wasn’t really better than coding a linear search yourself, but it did save some typing.

  • Is the dictionary not just doing the linear search work for us like how in was?
    • NO (asterisk)

    • But I won’t teach you this yet because it’s well beyond the scope of this class.
      • Sorry :(


Given an array of integers, return indices of the two numbers such that they add up to a specific target.

You may assume that each input would have exactly one solution, and you may not use the same element twice.


Given nums = [2, 7, 11, 15], target = 9,

Because nums[0] + nums[1] = 2 + 7 = 9,

return [0, 1].


  • A set is kinda’ like a list, but it only holds unique things.

  • Also, sets typically do not have any ordering to them.
    • Lists start at index 0, then go to 1, 2, …

    • Sets start… wherever

    >>> a = set([])     # `[]' not actually needed for empty one
    >>> print(a)
    >>> print(type(a))
    <class 'set'>
    >>> b = set([1, 2, 3, 4])
    {1, 2, 3, 4}
  • Cool. But you said something about uniqueness and orderdness

    >>> c = set([3, 4, 2, 2, 1, 5, 5, 5, 5])
    >>> print(c)
    {1, 2, 3, 4, 5}
  • Hmmm… Looks ordered to me
    • Not really though, there is no actual intrinsic ordering enforced here

  • We can totally see the uniqueness though, so that’s cool

  • in totally works

    >>> print(3 in c)
    >>> print('a' in c)
  • Iterating over a set

    >>> for thing in c:
    >>>   print(thing)
  • Add things to a set

    >>> c.add('hello')
    >>> print(c)
    {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 'hello'}
    >>> c.add('hello')
    >>> print(c)
    {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 'hello'}
  • discard things

    >>> c.discard('hello')
    >>> print(c)
    {1, 2, 3, 4, 5}
    >>> c.discard('hello')
    >>> print(c)
    {1, 2, 3, 4, 5}
  • remove things
    • Almost the same as discard, but will throw an exception if we try to remove something that’s not there

    >>> print(c)
    {1, 2, 3, 4, 5}
    >>> c.remove(5)
    >>> print(c)
    {1, 2, 3, 4}
    >>> c.remove(5)
    KeyError              Traceback (most recent call last)
    <ipython-input-91-0733df1dbd33> in <module>()
    ----> 1 c.remove(5)
    KeyError: 5
  • Clearing out a set

    >>> c.clear()
    >>> print(c)
  • Check equality

    >>> c = set([1, 2, 3])
    >>> d = set([3, 2, 1])
    >>> print(c == d)

What makes them special other than just uniqueness and orderdness?

  • So far they might not seem that special when compared to lists

  • But they are very very very special in many ways

  • One of which is: in.

  • Remember how when we used in for a list, but at the end of the day, the computer still have to do a linear search
    • Remember what a liner search is?

  • Turns out, for a set, in can tell us if something is in the set without having to do a linear search!


Load up this code into Python:

set_a = set([0, 1])
set_b = set([0, 1, 2])
set_c = set([2, 3])
  • Figure out if there is an easy way to determine if set set_a isubset of set_b

  • Figure out if thre is an easy way to get the union of two sets

  • Figure out if there is an easy way to get the intersection of two sets

  • Figure out if there is an easy way to get the difference between set_b and set_a

  • Do the previous one again but try the difference between set_a and set_b

HINT: hit tab.



  1. Imagine I gave you the text from a book that you could load up into Python. What’s the easiest way to count the number of unique words?

  2. What would you do if I gave you another book and asked you which words do they have in common?

  3. What if I wanted to know the number of unique words that exist between the two books?

  4. What If I wanted to know which words were in one book, but not the other?

The Bad News…

  • The above data structures are pretty awesome

  • Unfortunately… they’re not free
    • Although Python really makes it look like they are

  • With dictionaries, sets, tuples, and even lists, someone actually had to write a lot of nifty algorithms to do all the amazing things they do

  • I briefly discussed fixed length arrays before, and those, classically speaking, we get for free, in addition to the primitive types

  • Most of the cool data structures we’ve seen so far are actually built on top of the fixed length arrays

  • In the same way that we’re not actually sure how print actually works, we don’t know how these data structures really work under the hood.

The Good News…

  • This does not really matter for us right now.

  • As of now, we don’t really need to know all this to get the computer to do fun things.

  • Just like how you don’t really need to know all the ins and outs of an internal combustion engine in order to drive a car, we don’t need to know all the ins and outs of the data structures to use them.

  • Buuuuutttttttttttt… at the same time, if I was a race car driver, maybe knowing how things work under the hood could help me tweak and tune the car for the best performance.

The Good/Bad News…

  • The under the hood stuff here is outside the scope of this course.

  • If you’re thinking Thank F@-%!#& GAWD, lucky you

  • If you’re thinking awhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I wanna’ know, sorry

  • Either way, we will look at some of these data structures in CSCI 162!
    • Trust me, it’s actually a lot of fun!!

For next class