TypeError: list indices must be integers or slices, not tuple

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

When working with Python lists in your data analytics projects, when you trying to read the data, a common problem occurs if you have a list of lists, and it is not properly formatted.

In this instance, Python will not be able to read one or more lists and as a result, will throw this error.

In order to understand how this problem occurs, we need to understand how to create a list of lists.

How to create a lists of lists

Let’s look at a simple list:

a = [1,2,3]
print(a)
print(type(a))

Result:
[1, 2, 3]
<class 'list'>

Let’s create a second list called b:

b = [4,5,6]
print(b)
print(type(b))

Result:
[4, 5, 6]
<class 'list'>

So if we want to join the lists together into one list ( hence a list of lists) then:

a = [1,2,3]
b = [4,5,6]

list_of_lists = []
list_of_lists.append(a)
list_of_lists.append(b)
print(list_of_lists)
print(type(list_of_lists))

Result:
[[1, 2, 3], [4, 5, 6]]
<class 'list'>

So as can be seen the two lists are contained within a master list called “list_of_lists”.

So why does the error list indices must be integers or slices, not tuple occur?

Reason 1 ( Missing commas between lists)

If you manually type them in and forget the comma between the lists this will cause your problem:

a=[[1,2,3][4,5,6]]
print(a)

Result (Error):
Traceback (most recent call last):
  line 10, in <module>
    a=[[1,2,3][4,5,6]]
TypeError: list indices must be integers or slices, not tuple

But if you put a comma between the two lists then it returns no error:

a=[[1,2,3],[4,5,6]]
print(a)

Result (no error):
[[1, 2, 3], [4, 5, 6]]
Process finished with exit code 0

Reason 2 ( Comma in the wrong place)

Sometimes you have a list, and you only want to bring back some elements of the list, but not others:

In the below, we are trying to bring back the first two elements of the list.

a= [1,2,3,4,5]
print(a[0:,2])

Result:
Traceback (most recent call last):
   line 14, in <module>
    print(a[0:,2])
TypeError: list indices must be integers or slices, not tuple

The reason that the same error happens is the additional comma in a[0:,2], causes the error to appear as Python does not know how to process it.

This is easily fixed by removing the additional comma as follows:

a= [1,2,3,4,5]
print(a[0:2])

Result:
[1, 2]
Process finished with exit code 0

So why is there a mention of tuples in the error output?

The final piece of the jigsaw needs to understand why there is a reference to a tuple in the error output?

If we return to a looking at a list of lists and look at their index values:

a=[[1,2,3],[4,5,6]]
z = [index for index, value in enumerate(a)]
print(z)

Result:
[0, 1]
Process finished with exit code 0

As can be seen, the index values are 0,1, which is correct.

As before removing the comma gives the error we are trying to solve for:

a=[[1,2,3][4,5,6]]
z = [index for index, value in enumerate(a)]
print(z)

Result:
Traceback (most recent call last):
  line 16, in <module>
    a=[[1,2,3][4,5,6]]
TypeError: list indices must be integers or slices, not tuple

BUT the reference to the tuple comes from the fact that when you pass two arguments (say an index value) a Tuple is created, but in this instance, as the comma is missing the tuple is not created and the error is called.

This stems from the __getitem__ for a list built-in class cannot deal with tuple arguments that are not integers ( i.e. 0,1 like we have returned here) , so the error is thrown, it is looking for the two index values to pass into a tuple.