Python Return List From Function

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Do you need to create a function that returns a list but you don’t know how? No worries, in sixty seconds, you’ll know! Go! ?

A Python function can return any object such as a list. To return a list, first create the list object within the function body, assign it to a variable your_list, and return it to the caller of the function using the keyword operation “return your_list“.

For example, the following code creates a function create_list() that iterates over all numbers 0, 1, 2, …, 9, appends them to the list your_list, and returns the list to the caller of the function:

def create_list():
    ''' Function to return list '''
    your_list = []
    for i in range(10):

    return your_list

numbers = create_list()
# [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]

Note that you store the resulting list in the variable numbers. The local variable your_list that you created within the function body is only visible within the function but not outside of it. So, if you try to access the name your_list, Python will raise a NameError:

>>> print(your_list)
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "C:\Users\xcent\Desktop\", line 9, in <module>
NameError: name 'your_list' is not defined

To fix this, simply assign the return value of the function — a list — to a new variable and access the content of this new variable:

>>> numbers = create_list()
>>> print(numbers)
[0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]

There are many other ways to return a list in Python. For example, you can use a list comprehension statement instead that is much more concise than the previous code—but creates the same list of numbers:

def create_list():
    ''' Function to return list '''
    return [i for i in range(10)]

numbers = create_list()
# [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]

List comprehension is a very useful Python feature that allows you to dynamically create a list by using the syntax [expression context]. You iterate over all elements in a given context “for i in range(10)“, and apply a certain expression, e.g., the identity expression i, before adding the resulting values to the newly-created list.

In case you need to learn more about list comprehension, feel free to check out my explainer video:

An interesting way to return a list from a function is to use lambda functions.

A lambda function is an anonymous function in Python. It starts with the keyword lambda, followed by a comma-separated list of zero or more arguments, followed by the colon and the return expression. Use the square bracket notation [ ... ] or the list() constructor to create and return a list object.

The following code snippet uses a combination of features.

  • The lambda function dynamically creates a function object and assigns it to the variable create_list. You can then call the function like before with create_list().
  • The list comprehension expression creates a list and return it at the same time in a single line of code—it cannot get more concise than that.
create_list = lambda : [i for i in range(10)]

numbers = create_list()
# [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]

Where to Go From Here?

Enough theory. Let’s get some practice!

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