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Python's Ternary Operators Guide: Boosting Code Efficiency

Learn how to enhance your Python coding skills using ternary operators to produce more efficient and readable code. Plus, discover tips for streamlining your conditional statements.
May 2024  · 11 min read

Python skills are vital for working with data, whether you're analyzing datasets or building complex models. Good Python code is easy to understand and work with, but things can get messy when you add conditions. That's where the ternary operators come in handy.

Ternary operators are like a shortcut that helps keep your code neat and clear.

In this article, we'll cover the details of ternary operators, providing examples to illustrate how to use them in your code. Additionally, we'll discuss the pros and cons of using ternary operators.

What are Ternary Operators in Python?

The word “ternary” means “composed of three parts.” The ternary operator was named because it involves three operands:

  • A condition
  • An expression to execute if the condition is True
  • Another expression to execute if the condition is false.

In programming literature, you can find ternary operators under different names: Conditional Operator, Ternary If, and Inline If (IIF).

Ternary operators aren't unique to Python. Languages like Java, JavaScript, and C also have their versions. While they might differ slightly in syntax, they all share the same basic functionality. Let’s explain using a simple example.

Imagine you have to make a decision, like whether to go to the beach or stay home. You might base this decision on the weather. If it's sunny, you'll go to the beach, but if it's raining, you'll stay home. In if-else condition, it would look like this:

if weather=="sunny":
	print("Go to the beach")
	print("Stay home")

Now, let's translate this decision-making process into a ternary operation:

If it's sunny, you'll go to the beach(x), otherwise (else), you'll stay home(y).

So, in Ternary Python, it would look like this:

Both cases are correct. Which one do you think will be the neatest inside Python code?

The Basic Syntax of Python Ternary Operators

Python Ternary Operators

Let’s go deeper now and explore the ternary operators in detail. The general shape of Python ternary operators looks like this:


The condition in a Python ternary operator can be any expression that evaluates to a boolean value (True or False). This expression could involve comparisons or relational operators(<,>,==,!=), logical operators (Logical AND, Logical OR, and Logical NOT operations), function calls, or any other operation that results in a boolean value.

For example, the condition could be:

  • A simple comparison: x < 100
  • A combination of comparisons: x < 10 and y > 25
  • A function call: is_numer(value)
  • A logical expression: x > 0 or y < 0

The key is that the condition should be evaluated to either True or False, depending on the logic you want to implement. The result of the ternary operator will then be based on whether this condition evaluates to True or False.


This part of the ternary operator is often called the "result if true" or "value if true." It represents the action or value that should be taken or assigned when the condition provided evaluates True.

  • A variable: x
  • A constant value: 10
  • A function call: calculate_value()
  • An arithmetic expression:x-1, x * 2
  • Any other valid Python expression that yields a value

The result_if_true part allows you to specify the outcome or value you want when the condition is met or evaluates to True.


Similar to the "result if true" part, the "result if false" part can be any valid Python expression or value, such as:

  • A variable: y
  • A constant value: 0
  • A function call: get_value()
  • An arithmetic expression: y + 2
  • Any other valid Python expression that yields a value

This flexibility allows you to specify different outcomes or values based on whether the condition is met.

In the following section, I will review examples that cover most combinations of conditions, result_if_True and result_if_False.

How to Use Python Ternary Operators

Ternary operators offer a concise way to express conditional logic not only in simple if-else statements but also in other Python constructs like tuples and dictionaries.

Ternary operators in if-else statements

For ternary operators, ensure that the condition evaluates to True or False. The following examples show how ternary operators can handle different data types all at once within their three parts. This flexibility makes them useful for combining various kinds of information in a single expression.

Condition: comparison, Result if True: variable, Result if False: variable

#the result will be x if x is less than y otherwise it will be y
x = 3
y = 5
result = x if x < y else y

Condition: membership, Result if True: constant, Result if False: constant

# the result will be “Element is present” if the element exists in my_list otherwise it will be "Element is not present"
my_list = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]
element = 6
result = "Element is present" if element in my_list else "Element is not present"

Condition: logical, Result if True: constant, Result if False: constant

# the result will be “Even” if the mod of X is 0 otherwise the result will be “Odd”
x = 5
result = "Even" if x % 2 == 0 else "Odd"

Condition:logical, Result if True: arithmetic, Result if False: arithmetic

# if x is less than y the results will be the sum of x and y otherwise the result will be the subtraction. 
x = 5
y = 7
result = x + y if x < y else x - y

Condition: logical, Result if True: variable, Result if False: function

# in case x is not None value, the result is x otherwise it is the output of the get_defult values function, which is “Default”
def get_default_value():
    return "Default"
x = None
result = x if x is not None else get_default_value()

Condition: Function, Result if True: Arithmetic Expression, Result if False: Function

# If the customer_type is not "Regular”, the get_discount function will be called with customer_type as an argument; otherwise, the discount will be set to 0.
def get_discount(customer):
    return 10 if customer == "VIP" else 5
customer_type = "Regular"
discount = get_discount(customer_type) if customer_type != "Regular" else 0

Condition: logical, Result if True: Function, Result if False: Function

# in case a  is less than b print the value “a is greater” otherwise print “b is greater”
print(a,"is greater") if (a>b) else print(b,"is greater")

Nested Ternary Operators

The nested ternary operator in Python allows you to combine multiple conditional expressions within a single ternary operator. This can be particularly useful when you need to evaluate multiple conditions and return different results based on each condition.

Let's consider an example where we want to determine the category of a given number based on its value:

num = 15
size= "Small" if num < 4 else ("Medium" if num < 10 else "Large")

In this example:

  • The outer ternary operator checks if the number is less than 4. If it is, it assigns the category "Small".
  • If the number is not less than 10, the inner ternary operator checks if the number is less than 10. If it is, it assigns the category "Medium"
  • If neither condition is met, the category "Large" is assigned.

Ternary Operators using Tuples

Ternary operators can be used within tuples to select values based on a condition. For example:

value = (x if condition else y)

However, a more sophisticated way to apply Ternary operators to tuples exists. This method leverages tuples' indexing capabilities to perform conditional operations. When combined with tuples, immutable sequences of elements, ternary operators allow for compact and readable conditional expressions.

In the context of tuples, the ternary operator selects one of two values based on a condition and returns it. This is achieved by indexing the tuple using the result of the condition as the index. If the condition is True, in Python True =1, the element at index 1 (corresponding to result_if_true) is returned; otherwise, the element at index 0 (corresponding to result_if_false) is returned.

This approach can help perform simple conditional assignments or evaluations within expressions. However, ensure that the code remains readable and understandable.


a, b = 1, 5
print((a, b)[a < b])
  • ( a,b): This creates a tuple ( a,b) with two elements, where a is the first element and b is the second element. In Python indexing starts from 0. So, a has an index 0 and b has an index 1.
  • [a < b]: This is an indexing operation. If a is less than b, it evaluates to True, equivalent to 1 in Python. If a is not less than b, it evaluates to False, equivalent to 0 in Python.
  • Therefore, this indexing operation effectively selects the first or second element of the tuple based on the result of the comparison a < b.
  • since a is 1 and b is 5, a < b evaluates to True, which means 1. so the expression b is selected, and 5 is printed.

Ternary Operators using Dictionaries

The concept of utilizing indexing, as seen with tuples, can also be extended to dictionaries. However, unlike tuples, dictionaries do not have a traditional index in Python. Instead, dictionaries use their keys to access and retrieve values.

Dictionary keys serve a similar purpose to indices, allowing for efficient retrieval of values associated with specific keys. Dictionary keys are similar to tuples in that both are immutable, meaning they can’t be changed internally without changing the dictionary identity.

a, b = 1, 5
result= {True: a, False: b} [a < b]
  • This code is a dictionary expression combined with key-value lookup.
  • {True: a, False: b}: This creates a dictionary with two key-value pairs.
  • If the condition [a < b] is True, it associates the key True with the value a, and if the condition is False, it associates the key False with the value b.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Python Ternary Operators

Ternary operators have their ups and downs, just like any tool. It's essential to get to know both sides to find the right balance and use them effectively.

First, let's explore the benefits of using Python's ternary operators:

  • The code will be short and clear.
  • The code will be easier to read and understand because it's more concise.
  • They're convenient when you need to assign values based on certain conditions.
  • Not only does your code look cleaner but it can also make it run faster since it doesn't have to check as many options.

The drawbacks of using Python's ternary operators are as follows:

  • Ternary operators may not be ideal for scenarios requiring multiple conditions.
  • Complex and nested Ternary operators could lead to confusion and errors.
  • Excessive use of ternary operators in the code can result in overly complex code that is difficult to understand and maintain.
  • The logical flow of codes containing complex Ternary operators may not be clear, making debugging the code extremely challenging and identifying and fixing errors harder.

Ternary Operators Best Practices

Of course, as with any tool, there are challenges you’ll face when working with them. Bear these best practices in mind when using them in your code:

  • Use them wisely: Complex conditions in ternary operators can make code hard to read. Break them down into if-else statements if needed.
  • Don't go too deep: Nesting too many ternary operators creates a tangled mess. Keep things simple and easy to follow.
  • Test thoroughly: Make sure your code with ternary operators works as expected in different scenarios.
  • Explain your logic: Add comments to explain what the ternary operator is doing for better code maintenance.
  • Be consistent: Use ternary operators in the same way throughout your code for a clean and readable style.
  • Handle errors: Build in ways to deal with unexpected situations when using ternary operators.

Build Your Python Skills

Python's ternary operators are gems in Python. They empower you to write streamlined, efficient code by condensing complex conditional logic into a single, elegant line.

Embracing ternary operators not only enhances code readability but also reflects a deeper understanding of Python's expressive syntax. As you continue your Python journey, leveraging this compact form of conditional expression will undoubtedly sharpen your coding skills and lead to more refined, polished scripts.

Here are a few links to help you build your Python skills and climb the ladder of Python programming, one step at a time.


What is a ternary operator in Python?

A ternary operator is a conditional expression that evaluates a condition and returns one of two values based on whether the condition is true or false. The syntax of a ternary operator in Python is value_if_true if condition else value_if_false. It evaluates the condition first; if it's true, it returns value_if_true; otherwise, it returns value_if_false

What are the advantages of using ternary operators?

Ternary operators make the code more compact and easier to understand at a glance. They reduce the number of lines in your code and enhance readability for simple conditions.

What are the disadvantages of using ternary operators?

Ternary operators can enhance code readability for simple conditions, but they might make code harder to read for complex conditions or nested operations. Using them too much can make code difficult to understand.

When should you avoid using ternary operators?

Avoid using ternary operators for complex conditions or when the expression becomes hard to understand. If the code becomes less readable, use traditional if-else statements instead.

Photo of Rayan Yassminh
Rayan Yassminh

I am a data scientist with a broad STEM background. I aim to explain basic concepts in data science using effective and simple examples.


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