Skip to content

Master Modifying Python Dictionaries - Add, Update, Delete Key-Value Pairs

Updated: at 02:50 AM

Dictionaries are a powerful data structure in Python that allow you to store data as key-value pairs. They provide a flexible way to access and modify data, making dictionaries useful for many programming tasks. However, to leverage the full power of Python dictionaries, you need to know how to modify them by adding, updating, and deleting key-value pairs. This guide will walk through these core dictionary modification operations with detailed explanations, example code snippets, and best practices.


Dictionaries in Python are mutable, meaning their contents can be changed after creation. This allows you to start with an empty dictionary and build it up, add new key-value pairs, modify existing values for keys, or delete keys as needed. The main dictionary operations for modifying dictionaries are:

Mastering these modification techniques unlocks the full potential of dictionaries for organizing, storing, and accessing data in your Python programs.

This guide will cover basic to more advanced examples of:

Table of Contents

Open Table of Contents

Creating and Initializing Dictionaries

Before modifying a dictionary, you need to create one. Dictionary literals use curly braces {} to denote the dictionary body:

my_dict = {} # empty dictionary

You can also initialize a dictionary with some key-value pairs like:

person = {"name": "John", "age": 30, "job": "Data Scientist"}

The keys can be any immutable Python data types like strings, numbers, or tuples. Values can be any arbitrary Python object.

Now let’s walk through how to modify dictionaries by adding, updating, and deleting elements.

Adding New Key-Value Pairs

To add a new key-value pair to a dictionary, simply assign a value to a new key:

person["city"] = "New York"

This adds "city": "New York" to the person dictionary created earlier.

You can also use the update() method to add multiple key-value pairs from another dictionary:

new_data = {"email": "[email protected]", "phone": "555-1234"}

The person dictionary will now contain the additional entries from new_data.

When adding keys, keep these tips in mind:

Modifying Values for Existing Keys

To modify the value associated with an existing dictionary key, you can simply assign a new value to that key:

person["age"] = 31 # update existing key "age"

This changes the value for "age" from 30 to 31.

You can also use the update() method to modify multiple existing keys from another dictionary:

updates = {"name": "Eric", "age": 32}

Now person["name"] will be "Eric" and person["age"] will be 32.

Note that update() will add any new keys present in the provided dictionary but only update values for existing keys. This provides a convenient way to bulk modify a dictionary.

Merging Dictionaries with update()

A common need is to merge two dictionaries together into a single dictionary. For example:

dict1 = {"a": 1, "b": 2}
dict2 = {"c": 3, "d": 4}

To combine these, use update():


# {'a': 1, 'b': 2, 'c': 3, 'd': 4}

The update() method merges dict2 into dict1. Duplicate keys will be overwritten with dict2’s values.

This provides an easy way to join dictionaries without creating a new dict. Keep in mind, however, that update() modifies the existing dictionary rather than returning a new one.

For other options to merge dictionaries, see the Python docs on dictionary operations.

Deleting Keys and Values

To delete a key-value pair from a dictionary, you can use pop(), popitem(), or the del statement:

# Delete key "age"

# Delete an arbitrary key-value pair

# Delete key "city"
del person["city"]

All these methods will raise a KeyError if the given key does not exist in the dictionary.

You can also delete all dictionary contents using clear():

person.clear() # Deletes all key-value pairs

This leaves you with an empty but still existing dictionary object.

Using get() and setdefault()

The get() and setdefault() methods provide more advanced ways to access and modify dictionary values:

value = person.get("age") # Get value or None if key doesn't exist

value = person.get("height", 180) # Get value or default if missing

value = person.setdefault("age", 20) # Like get() but also sets default

These provide a safe way to get values from a dictionary without a KeyError if the key is missing.

Leveraging defaultdict and Counter

The defaultdict and Counter classes from Python’s collections module provide specialized dictionaries geared for common use cases:

from collections import defaultdict, Counter

频频 = defaultdict(list) # Dictionary with default value of list

freqs = Counter() # Dictionary for counting frequences

freq["python"] += 1 # Initialize counter/tally

These classes simplify many dictionary operations and are worth learning - see Python’s documentation for more details.


This guide covered fundamental and advanced techniques for modifying dictionaries in Python:

Dictionaries are a flexible data structure that form the foundation of many Python programs. Mastering dictionary modification empowers you to build, update, and manage custom dictionaries to suit your program’s needs.

The dictionary operations presented here apply to many Python programming domains and scenarios. Use these building blocks to implement dictionaries in data analysis, Web applications, algorithms, machine learning, and more. Refer to the Python documentation for even more dictionary capabilities to enhance your code.