Conditional Operators

Right now, we know how to use simple conditions in if-else statements. What if we wanted to check the opposite of a condition? What about chaining conditions?

not

The purpose of this operator is to negate the condition it’s applied to. For example:

  • not True is False
  • not False is True
  • not x is the opposite of x

The last bit is especially useful. Say we want to print y if it’s smaller than x. We can write this like so:

x = 6
y = 1

if y < x:
    print(y)

Lexicographically, it might look nicer to put the x before the y (or, maybe that’s a functional reason you want to do this). Let’s use the not operator to flip the condition:

x = 6
y = 1

if not x < y:
    print(y)

If x is not smaller than y, we print y. There’s a very subtle difference between this statement and the one above: the first if statement only evaluates to true if y is smaller than x, but the second one also evaluates to true if y is equal to x. Of course, we can correct for this by using x <= y if we need to.

This wasn’t a very functional example for the not operator, but hopefully you see how it can be applied to other (more useful) cases.

and

What if you wanted to check whether x was in a certain range? You could do something like this:

x = 5

if x > 1:
    if x < 10:
        print(x)

This looks a little clunky, because you’ve got an extra line dedicated to what should basically be one condition. Let’s see how the and operator can combine these conditions:

x = 5

if x > 1 and x < 10:
    print(x)

This will only run if both given conditions are true! A simpler and easier-to-read condition :). You can also add more than two conditions here. Say you want to prin x if it’s in that range unless it’s 4:

x = 5

if x > 1 and x < 10 and x != 4:
    print(x)

Side Note: Python actually has a nice feature built-in for checking if a number is in a certain range: if 1 < x < 10:. This has a very algebraic feel to it, which should help you make more sense of it. Note that and is still useful for cases where you’re not checking numerical conditions, but this could be a cool trick to know.

or

Similar to the and operator, or is very straightforward: if you want to check whether one of two or more conditions is true, you can chain them using or:

x = 5

if x == 1 or x == 4 or x == 7:
    print(x)

This is an odd condition, but it gets the point across: if x is any of 1, 4, or 7, print it!

Short-Circuiting

Think about these conditions logically. If someone asks you to do something only if x is greater than 1 and less than 10, and you’re told that x is 0, do you need to check both of these conditions? You already know it’s less than 1, so the first condition fails. The second one could be true, but it won’t matter, so you save yourself some thinking and stop!

Similarly, say someone tells you to do something only if x if 1, 4, or 7, and you’re told that x is 1, do you need to check the other two conditions? You already know that x is 1, so the first condition passes. The other two could be true or false, but it won’t matter, so you again save yourself some thinking and stop.

Python does both of these too. This is known as short-circuiting: if the first of a sequence of conditions evaluates to a falsey value in an and clause, Python realizes that the rest of the condition is irrelevant and stops. If it evaluates to a truthy value in an or clause, Python realizes that the rest is irrelevant and stops checking.

In action, this is a little more complicated. If you just run these conditions on an interpreter without the if, you’ll see what I mean:

>>> x = 5
>>> x > 1 and x < 10:
True
>>> x or x < 10:
5

The first one makes sense: the condition is obviously True, so that’s what gets printed. But why do you get back a 5 on the second condition?

Well, Python doesn’t actually yield True or False. What happens is the expression is evaluated, and in an or statement the first true expression’s evaluated result is printed. If all the statements are false, then the last expression’s result is printed.

>>> x = 0
>>> x < 0 or x:
0

Here, everything is a falsey value, so the evaluated result of the last one gets printed.

In an and statement, the order is the opposite: if everything is truthy, the last expression is printed. If not, the first falsey expression is printed.

The reason that with numerical expressions we see True or False is because those are the values these expressions evaluate to!

None

Another unique result is when something is None: the Python interpreter doesn’t print None results, so if something evaluates to None, it doesn’t get printed.

>>> None or 0
0
>>> 0 or None
>>> # nothing was printed!

Remember the print function? It prints whatever is passed in but it doesn’t return anything – it returns None. What if we use it in a condition?

>>> print(5) or None
5

Note that this expression isn’t truthy! The 5 gets printed by the call to print, and the None gets “printed” as the evaluated result of the condition!


Contributors: Vanshaj Singhania