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Positional and Keyword Arguments

Positional and Keyword Arguments

Python functions can contain two types of arguments: positional arguments and keyword arguments. Positional arguments are included in the correct order. Keyword arguments are included with a keyword and equals sign.

Positional Arguments

An argument is a variable, value or object passed to a function or method. Positional arguments are arguments that need to be included when a function is called in the proper position or order.

The first positional argument always needs to be listed first. The second positional argument needs to be listed second and the third positional argument listed third, etc.

An example of positional arguments can be seen in Python's complex() function. This function returns a complex number with a real term and an imaginary term. The order that numbers are passed to the complex function determines which number is the real term and which number is the imaginary term.

If the complex number 3 + 5j is created, the two positional arguments are the numbers 3 and 5. As positional arguments, 3 must be listed first, and 5 must be listed second.

In [1]:
complex(3, 5)


On the other hand, if the complex number 5 + 3j needs to be created, the 5 needs to be listed first and the 3 listed second. Writing the same arguments in a different order produces a different result.
In [2]:
complex(5, 3)


Positional Arguments Specified by an Iterable

Positional arguments can also be passed to functions using an iterable object. Examples of iterable objects in Python include lists and tuples. The general syntax to use is:


Where function is the name of the function and iterable is the name of the iterable preceded by the ampersand * character.

An example of using a list to pass positional arguments to the complex() function is below. Note the ampersand * character is included before the term_list argument.

In [3]:
term_list = [3, 5]


Keyword Arguments

A keyword argument is an argument passed to a function or method which is preceded by a keyword and an equals sign. The general form is:


Where function is the function name, keyword is the keyword argument and value is the value or object passed as that keyword. Python's complex function can also accept two keyword arguments. The two keyword arguments are real= and imag=. To create the complex number 3 + 5j the 3 and 5 can be passed to the function as the values assigned to the keyword arguments real= and imag=.

In [4]:
complex(real=3, imag=5)


Keyword arguments are passed to functions after any required positional arguments. But the order of one keyword argument compared to another keyword argument does not matter. Note how both sections of code below produce the same output.
In [5]:
complex(real=3, imag=5)


In [6]:
complex(imag=5, real=3)


Keyword Arguments specified by a dictionary

Keyword arguments can also be passed to functions using a Python dictionary. The dictionary must contain the keywords as keys in the dictionary and the values as values in the dictionary. The general form is:

keyword_dict = {'keyword1': value1, 'keyword2': value2}

Where function is the name of the function and keyword_dict is the name of the dictionary containing keywords and values preceded by the double ampersand ** character. Note that the keywords assigned as keys in a dictionary must be surrounded by quotes ' '. An example of using a dictionary to pass keyword arguments to the complex() function is below:

In [7]:
keyword_dict = {'real': 3, 'imag': 5}