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The not Operator: Inverting a Condition in Python

Updated: at 02:12 AM

The not operator in Python is a unary operator that inverts or “flips” the truth value of the expression or condition it precedes. It is an important logical operator in Python used to negate or reverse the meaning of an expression, statement, or block of code.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover the following topics related to the not operator in Python:

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Overview of the not Operator

The not operator (also called the logical NOT operator) in Python is used to invert or negate the truth value of any boolean condition or expression. This allows you to essentially flip the meaning of any True/False logical statement.

The not keyword in Python is a unary operator, meaning it operates on only one logical expression or variable. When applied to any expression that evaluates to True, the not operator will invert the expression to False. Likewise, if the expression evaluates to False, the not operator will invert it to True.

Here is the basic syntax for the not operator in Python:

not expression

Where expression is any valid boolean expression or statement that can be evaluated as either True or False.

The not operator has a lower priority than most other logical operators except for the or operator. So it will often need to be used with parentheses to force the desired order of operations.

Now let’s look at some examples of how the not operator is commonly used in Python.

Truth Value Testing

One of the most common uses of the not operator is to test for the opposite of a True/False condition. This is known as truth value testing.

For example:

x = True

print(not x) # Prints False

Here not inverts the value of x from True to False.

We can also use not with Boolean variables or expressions:

ready = False

print(not ready) # Prints True
flag = True

print(not flag) # Prints False

The not operator will simply flip the truth value of any True/False boolean expression. This allows you to easily check for the inverted case of a conditional in your code.

Inverting Boolean Values

Closely related to truth value testing, the not operator can be used to quickly invert any Boolean or logical value in Python:

bool_val = True

print(not bool_val) # False

bool_val = not bool_val
print(bool_val) # True

Here we invert bool_val from True to False, then back to True again using the not operator.

This provides a shortcut to toggling a boolean variable between True and False states which is common in programming logic.

Negating Conditions in if Statements

One very frequent use case for the not operator is to negate conditions inside if statements and other conditional logic.

For example:

x = 5
y = 10

if not x > y:
  print("x is not greater than y")

Here not is used to check if x is NOT greater than y, instead of just checking if x is greater than y.

This allows you to efficiently check the inverse case or opposite condition.

We can also use not to negate complex boolean expressions:

a = 5
b = 7
c = 11

if not (a < b or c > b):
  print("The condition evaluates to False")

The not operator flips the result of (a < b or c > b) from True to False, allowing us to execute the code in the if statement block.

Using not to negate conditions is very common when programming conditional logic.

Using not with Boolean Operators

The not operator can be combined with other boolean operators like and, or to compose more complex logical expressions:

x = 5
y = 7
z = 11

# not and
if not (x < y and z > y):
  print("`not` with `and` example")

# not or
if not (x == y or y < z):
  print("`not` with `or` example")

Here not is used together with and and or to create the inverted result of each boolean expression.

The order of operations matters when mixing logical operators. not has higher precedence than or but lower precedence than and. So parentheses are often needed to ensure proper operation.

Double Negation

In Python, using not twice in succession is called double negation. This will cancel out the effects of the operators:

x = True
print(not not x) # True

x = False
print(not not x) # False

Here the double not negates the negation, resulting in the original value.

In general, an even number of not operators will cancel each other out. While an odd number of not operators will invert the expression’s truth value.

The not Operator vs the ! Operator

Python also supports the bang operator ! which can be used like not to invert boolean values. These two operators are equivalent:

print(not True == !True) # True

The ! operator comes from languages like C, Java, JavaScript and is a common convention in programming.

But in Python not is the preferred idiomatic style. The ! bang operator is an alternative option but is not as widely used by Python programmers.

Common Use Cases of not

Some common use cases and applications for the not operator include:

if not condition:
while not done:
bit = 0

flipped = not bit # Flips 0 to 1
import re

pattern = r'bad'
text = 'This is bad text'

match = not, text)
text = ''

if not text:
  print('Empty String')

As you can see, inversion using not has many use cases in Python programming.

Chaining Multiple not Operators

It is possible to chain multiple not operators together in Python:

print(not not not True) # True

However, this is hard to read and overly complex. So it should generally be avoided in production code.

At most, using not twice for double negation can sometimes make sense. But chaining together any more not operators is considered unpythonic.

Instead of multiple not operators, decompose the complex expression using temporary variables or if-else statements to make it more readable.

Practical Examples and Use Cases

To illustrate practical applications of the not operator, let’s go through some examples:

1. Validating User Input

We can use not when validating user input:

username = input("Enter username: ")

if not username:
  print("Username cannot be empty")

Here we use not to check if the username evaluates to a falsey value like an empty string.

2. Searching Lists

When searching lists, not allows us to easily check if an item is not present:

colors = ['red', 'green', 'blue']

if 'purple' not in colors:
  print('The list does not contain purple')

3. Skipping Iteration

We can use not in loops to skip iteration:

for i in range(10):
  if not i % 2 == 0:

This will only print the even numbers, skipping odd numbers.

4. Flipping Status Flags

The not operator makes toggling status flag variables easy:

logging_enabled = True

# Disable logging
logging_enabled = not logging_enabled

5. Inverting Regular Expression Matches

To invert regex pattern matches:

import re

pattern = r'error'
text = 'error occurred'

if not, text):
  print('No Match Found')

Here not inverts the result of to check for no matches.

Common Mistakes and Errors

There are some common mistakes and errors to watch out for when using the not operator:

# Wrong
if not x > 10:

# Right
if not (x > 10):
# Hard to read
if not not not condition:

# Clearer
if condition:
# Bugs
if not x or y:

# Fixed
if not (x or y):
# Bug
if not x = False:

# Fixed
if not (x == False):

Carefully testing and reviewing code can help detect issues caused by misuse of not.


The not operator in Python is a simple but powerful logical operator for inverting boolean values and conditions. Mastering not allows you to:

But beware of readability issues and order of operation mistakes when chaining multiple not operators.

Overall, not is an essential Python programming tool for effectively handling logical conditions and boolean logic in code.