Suppose you’re writing a program that has a bunch of settings. You could make a separate variable for each setting:

>>> chopping_speed = 4
>>> saltiness = "very salty"
>>> self_destruct_time = 10

But that could be inconvenient if you have lots of settings. What if you want to store them all in a single variable? You could use a list:

>>> settings = [4, "very salty", 10]

But this has a big problem: you have to remember what each setting is! To get the saltiness level, you’d have to type settings[1]. Besides being ugly, someone else who looks at your code will have no idea what in the heck settings[1] is supposed to mean without digging deeper. And what if you got chopping_speed mixed up with self_destruct_time? shudder

What if instead of using number indices (like settings[1]), you could instead use a string as an index, like settings['saltiness']? That’s what a dictionary is for!

>>> settings = {'chopping_speed': 4,
                'saltiness': 'very salty',
                'self_destruct_time': 10}
>>> settings['chopping_speed']
>>> settings['saltiness']
'very salty'
>>> settings['self_destruct_time']
>>> settings['self_destruct_time'] = 9
>>> settings['self_destruct_time']

A dictionary lets you store a bunch of “key-value pairs”. The dictionary has a set of keys (in our case, 'chopping_speed', 'saltiness' and 'self_destruct_time'). Each of those keys has a value assigned to it. The keys actually don’t have to be strings:

>>> my_dict = {4: "hello"}

But usually strings are what you want for keys.


It’s called a “dictionary” because a dictionary has a set of keys (words) and a value (a definition) for each key.

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