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Making Choices


Teaching: 30 min
Exercises: 10 min
  • How can my programs do different things based on data values?

  • Write conditional statements including if, elif, and else branches.

  • Correctly evaluate expressions containing and and or.


We can ask Python to take different actions, depending on a condition, with an if statement:

num = 37
if num > 100:
    print('not greater')
not greater

The second line of this code uses the keyword if to tell Python that we want to make a choice. If the test that follows the if statement is true, the body of the if (i.e., the set of lines indented underneath it) is executed, and “greater” is printed. If the test is false, the body of the else is executed instead, and “not greater” is printed. Only one or the other is ever executed before continuing on with program execution to print “done”:

A flowchart diagram of the if-else construct that tests if variable num is greater than 100

Conditional statements don’t have to include an else. If there isn’t one, Python simply does nothing if the test is false:

num = 53
print('before conditional...')
if num > 100:
    print(num, 'is greater than 100')
print('...after conditional')
before conditional...
...after conditional

We can also chain several tests together using elif, which is short for “else if”. The following Python code uses elif to print the sign of a number.

num = -3

if num > 0:
    print(num, 'is positive')
elif num == 0:
    print(num, 'is zero')
    print(num, 'is negative')
-3 is negative

Note that to test for equality we use a double equals sign == rather than a single equals sign = which is used to assign values.

Comparing in Python

Along with the > and == operators we have already used for comparing values in our conditionals, there are a few more options to know about:

  • >: greater than
  • <: less than
  • ==: equal to
  • !=: does not equal
  • >=: greater than or equal to
  • <=: less than or equal to

We can also combine tests using and and or. and is only true if both parts are true:

if (1 > 0) and (-1 >= 0):
    print('both parts are true')
    print('at least one part is false')
at least one part is false

while or is true if at least one part is true:

if (1 < 0) or (1 >= 0):
    print('at least one test is true')
at least one test is true

True and False

True and False are special words in Python called booleans, which represent truth values. A statement such as 1 < 0 returns the value False, while -1 < 0 returns the value True.

How Many Paths?

Consider this code:

if 4 > 5:
elif 4 == 5:
elif 4 < 5:

Which of the following would be printed if you were to run this code? Why did you pick this answer?

  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. B and C


C gets printed because the first two conditions, 4 > 5 and 4 == 5, are not true, but 4 < 5 is true.

What Is Truth?

True and False booleans are not the only values in Python that are true and false. In fact, any value can be used in an if or elif. After reading and running the code below, explain what the rule is for which values are considered true and which are considered false.

if '':
    print('empty string is true')
if 'word':
    print('word is true')
if []:
    print('empty list is true')
if [1, 2, 3]:
    print('non-empty list is true')
if 0:
    print('zero is true')
if 1:
    print('one is true')

That’s Not Not What I Meant

Sometimes it is useful to check whether some condition is not true. The Boolean operator not can do this explicitly. After reading and running the code below, write some if statements that use not to test the rule that you formulated in the previous challenge.

if not '':
    print('empty string is not true')
if not 'word':
    print('word is not true')
if not not True:
    print('not not True is true')

Close Enough

Write some conditions that print True if the variable a is within 10% of the variable b and False otherwise. Compare your implementation with your partner’s: do you get the same answer for all possible pairs of numbers?


There is a built-in function abs that returns the absolute value of a number:


Solution 1

a = 5
b = 5.1

if abs(a - b) <= 0.1 * abs(b):

Solution 2

print(abs(a - b) <= 0.1 * abs(b))

This works because the Booleans True and False have string representations which can be printed.

In-Place Operators

Python (and most other languages in the C family) provides in-place operators that work like this:

x = 1  # original value
x += 1 # add one to x, assigning result back to x
x *= 3 # multiply x by 3

Write some code that sums the positive and negative numbers in a list separately, using in-place operators. Do you think the result is more or less readable than writing the same without in-place operators?


positive_sum = 0
negative_sum = 0
test_list = [3, 4, 6, 1, -1, -5, 0, 7, -8]
for num in test_list:
    if num > 0:
        positive_sum += num
    elif num == 0:
        negative_sum += num
print(positive_sum, negative_sum)

Here pass means “don’t do anything”. In this particular case, it’s not actually needed, since if num == 0 neither sum needs to change, but it illustrates the use of elif and pass.

Counting Vowels

  1. Write a loop that counts the number of vowels in a character string.
  2. Test it on a few individual words and full sentences.
  3. Once you are done, compare your solution to your neighbor’s. Did you make the same decisions about how to handle the letter ‘y’ (which some people think is a vowel, and some do not)?


vowels = 'aeiouAEIOU'
sentence = 'Mary had a little lamb.'
count = 0
for char in sentence:
    if char in vowels:
        count += 1

print('The number of vowels in this string is ' + str(count))

Key Points

  • Use if condition to start a conditional statement, elif condition to provide additional tests, and else to provide a default.

  • The bodies of the branches of conditional statements must be indented.

  • Use == to test for equality.

  • X and Y is only true if both X and Y are true.

  • X or Y is true if either X or Y, or both, are true.

  • Zero, the empty string, and the empty list are considered false; all other numbers, strings, and lists are considered true.

  • True and False represent truth values.