FAQ: Learn Python - Lists and Functions - Modifying an element of a list in a function

This community-built FAQ covers the “Modifying an element of a list in a function” exercise in Codecademy’s lessons on Python.

FAQs for the Codecademy Python exercise Modifying an element of a list in a function:

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Could someone explain to me how print numbers print out 2,2,3,4 when there is no return in the function? In my mind it should be return n[0] = n[0] * 2

def double_first(n):
  n[0] = n[0] * 2

numbers = [1, 2, 3, 4]
print numbers

The function itself has nothing to do with this, take a look at this code:

a = 8
b = a
# here b has the same value as variable a
# but b is not a, it is just a copy
b = b * 2
print(a, b)

a = [1, 2, 3, 4]
b = a
# here b is the same object as a
# any modification of the value of b will result in modification of a
b[0] = b[0] * 2
print(a, b)

Evaluation of this code will result in:

8 16
[2, 2, 3, 4] [2, 2, 3, 4]

Interesting, right? Value of list a has changed, without any direct modification on our side!

In Python some objects are immutable (like numerical values) and some objects are mutable (like lists). It might be a bit confusing at start but you will get used to it :slight_smile: I have found a good decription of this mechanism that will shed some more light -> https://nedbatchelder.com/text/names1.html, and it is definitely better written than I would be able to.


in the explanationcode the function doesn’t return anything. the function is called and after that the list is printed and it works:

def double_first(n):
  n[0] = n[0] * 2

numbers = [1, 2, 3, 4]
print numbers

in the exercise, it’s needed that the function returns the list:

def list_function(x):
  x[1] = x[1] + 3
return x

n = [3, 5, 7]
print list_function(n)

can anyone explain to me what the difference is?


Hey @marcusde36ste, I formatted your code. Go ahead and check out this post as a reference on how to do this.

Try checking out this topic below, it might answer your question:


1 Like

Hi Steven

print 'thanks a lot! the difference between return and print is a lot clearer now :)'

1 Like