5 Best Ways to Sort a Series in Descending Order Using Python

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πŸ’‘ Problem Formulation: In many programming scenarios, it’s necessary to order a sequence of elements in non-increasing order. For instance, given a series [2, 3, 1, 4], a program should rearrange it to [4, 3, 2, 1]. This article explores different methods to sort elements in descending order using Python, catering to various preferences and scenarios.

Method 1: Using the sort() Function

The sort() function is a built-in Python method that allows you to sort the items of a list in place. This method is efficient as it modifies the list directly. You can pass reverse=True to the function to sort the list in descending order.

Here’s an example:

numbers = [12, 4, 55, 24, 79]


[79, 55, 24, 12, 4]

This code snippet sorts the list numbers in descending order using the sort() method with the reverse parameter set to True. The list is modified in place and printed with the elements ordered from highest to lowest.

Method 2: Using the sorted() Function

The sorted() function generates a new list containing all elements from the iterable in ascending order by default. By setting the reverse argument to True, the list gets sorted in descending order. This method doesn’t alter the original list.

Here’s an example:

series = [3, 1, 4, 1, 5]
desc_sorted_series = sorted(series, reverse=True)


[5, 4, 3, 1, 1]

This snippet creates a new list desc_sorted_series containing the sorted elements of series in descending order. The original list remains unchanged, showcasing how sorted() is a non-destructive sorting alternative.

Method 3: Using List Comprehension with sorted()

Combining the power of list comprehension with the sorted() function allows for a concise and readable one-liner. This method is similar to Method 2 but showcases a more Pythonic approach with inline expression.

Here’s an example:

series = [8, 60, 20, 15]
sorted_series = [x for x in sorted(series, reverse=True)]


[60, 20, 15, 8]

In this code snippet, list comprehension is used to iterate over the sorted series in descending order. The result is stored in a new list sorted_series, effectively making this method a more expressive version of method 2.

Method 4: Using a Custom Sort Key

In cases where sorting involves complex objects or special requirements, you can use the key parameter of the sorted() function to define a custom sort order. The function specified in the key parameter determines the sort order.

Here’s an example:

strings = ['apple', 'banana', 'cherry']
sorted_strings = sorted(strings, key=str.lower, reverse=True)


['cherry', 'banana', 'apple']

This code sorts the list strings by their lowercase representation in descending order, ensuring that the sort is case-insensitive. Providing a key function can be particularly powerful for custom sorting logic.

Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Using Lambda Functions

Lambda functions provide a quick way to create small anonymous functions at runtime. This method can be used with the sorted() function as a key to sort complex objects or perform calculations that dictate the sort order.

Here’s an example:

points = [(1, 2), (3, 4), (5, -1)]
# Sort by the sum of the pair in descending order 
sorted_points = sorted(points, key=lambda point: sum(point), reverse=True)


[(3, 4), (1, 2), (5, -1)]

This snippet demonstrates sorting a list of tuples based on the sum of each tuple using a lambda function as the sort key. This flexible method is particularly useful for custom sorting conditions.


  • Method 1: Using the sort() Function. Strengths: Memory efficient as it sorts in place. Weaknesses: Alters the original list.
  • Method 2: Using the sorted() Function. Strengths: Non-destructive, works on any iterable. Weaknesses: Creates a new list, which could be less memory efficient for large iterables.
  • Method 3: Using List Comprehension with sorted(). Strengths: Pythonic, concise. Weaknesses: Essentially a stylistic variation of method 2.
  • Method 4: Using a Custom Sort Key. Strengths: Highly customizable, can sort based on complex conditions. Weaknesses: Potentially slower if the key function is complex.
  • Method 5: One-Liner Using Lambda Functions. Strengths: Short and flexible for inline sorting logic. Weaknesses: Can be less readable due to the compact nature of lambda functions.