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The `or` Operator in Python: Requiring At Least One Condition to be True

Updated: at 03:34 AM

The or operator in Python allows you to check if at least one of multiple conditions is True. It returns True if any of the conditions evaluates to True. The or operator is also called the logical OR operator. Understanding how to use or correctly can help write more robust and Pythonic code.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover the following topics related to the or operator:

Table of Contents

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Definition and Syntax of the or Operator

The or keyword in Python represents the Boolean logical OR operator. The syntax for or is:

expr1 or expr2

Where expr1 and expr2 are two boolean expressions that will be evaluated from left to right.

The or operator returns True if either the left side expression expr1 or the right side expression expr2 evaluates to True. It will return False only when both expressions evaluate to False.

Here is the truth table for the or operator:

expr1expr2expr1 or expr2

As the truth table shows, the or expression only evaluates to False when both expr1 AND expr2 are False. As long as at least one expression is True, the overall or expression will be True.

Truth Value Testing

In Python, the or operator actually returns one of the operand values, not just a Boolean value. It will return the first truthy operand it encounters when evaluating left to right, or the last falsy operand if both are falsy.

Any object in Python has an inherent Boolean truth value, even if it is not an explicit Boolean True or False. The truth testing rules are:

So the or operator will return the first truthy operand:

print(0 or 10) # 10
print([] or 'hello') # 'hello'
print(True or 100) # True

And it will return the last falsy operand if both are falsy:

print(0 or False) # False
print(None or '') # ''

This allows you to use or as a way to choose between values.

Short-Circuit Evaluation

The or operator exhibits short-circuiting behavior - it will stop evaluation as soon as it encounters the first truthy value and will not evaluate the rest of the conditions.

This is important for efficiency as well as avoiding errors:

# Efficiency - avoids evaluating second expression
print(True or slow_function())

# Avoid errors - second expression not evaluated
print(False or 1/0)

Short-circuit evaluation avoids unnecessary work and avoids evaluating expressions that might cause errors.

Differences Between or and and

While or returns True if either one or both expressions are truthy, the and operator behaves differently:

So and is useful for ensuring all given conditions are met, while or checks if any one condition is met.

Here is a comparison of and vs or outputs:

print(True and True) # True
print(True and False) # False
print(False and True) # False
print(False and False) # False

print(True or True) # True
print(True or False) # True
print(False or True) # True
print(False or False) # False

Common Use Cases

Some common use cases taking advantage of or short-circuiting behavior are:

Condition Checking

Checking if at least one condition from a set of conditions is True:

if x > 0 or y > 0 or z > 0:
    print("At least one value is positive")

Only one condition needs to be True to print the message. The remaining conditions will not be evaluated after the first truthy one.

Default Values

Substituting default values if the original value does not exist:

user_name = username or 'Anonymous'

This will set user_name to the actual username if it exists, else default to ‘Anonymous’.

Coalescing Values

Coalescing chained or expressions to return first truthy value:

first_non_null = var1 or var2 or var3 or 'default'

This is useful for returning the first non-null variable from a chain, else defaulting to a set value.

Common Pitfalls and Best Practices

Here are some common pitfalls and best practices to keep in mind when using the or operator:

Performance Considerations

Since or short-circuits, it can provide a performance boost for expensive expressions or function calls:

# Slow network call avoided
if cached_value or make_network_call():

However, premature optimization should be avoided, especially in simple cases where readability is more important than marginal performance gains from short-circuiting.

Alternatives to or

user_name := username or 'Anonymous'

So consider if an explicit conditional or other Python feature may better suit your use case.

Examples and Exercises

Study the following examples and complete the exercises to check your understanding of or:

Example 1 - Return first truthy value:

print(0 or 100 or 200) # 100
vals = [0, 10, 20]
print(vals[0] or vals[1] or vals[2]) # 10

Example 2 - Default values:

user_color = favorite_color or 'blue'
user_name = provided_name or 'Anonymous'

Example 3 - Code readability:

# Hard to read
if d or e or f:

# Clearer
if d or e or f:


  1. Print the first positive number from the list [0, -1, 5, -3] using or.

  2. Set the variable message to “‘Empty’” if text is empty else set it to text.

  3. Fix the code snippet to avoid a divide by zero error:

x = False or 1/0


print([0, -1, 5, -3][0] or [0, -1, 5, -3][2])
# 5
message = text or "'Empty'"
x = False or 1

Proper use of the or operator allows writing conditional code that is robust, efficient, and Pythonic. With thepower of short-circuit evaluation, it serves as a useful tool for condition checking, default values, and more. Follow best practices of readability, avoiding complexity, and explicit checks over implicit type conversions.


The or operator in Python provides a shorthand for ensuring at least one condition evaluates to True. Its short-circuiting behavior improves efficiency and avoids errors. Common use cases include condition checking, default values, and coalescing. Appropriate use of or can improve code clarity and reduce complexity versus lengthy if/else blocks. A deep understanding of or will enable writing more idiomatic and Pythonic code.