Lexical analysis

A Python program is read by a parser. Input to the parser is a stream of tokens, generated by the lexical analyzer. This chapter describes how the lexical analyzer breaks a file into tokens.

Python reads program text as Unicode code points; the encoding of a source file can be given by an encoding declaration and defaults to UTF-8, see PEP 3120 for details. If the source file cannot be decoded, a SyntaxError is raised.

Line structure

A Python program is divided into a number of logical lines.

Logical lines

The end of a logical line is represented by the token NEWLINE. Statements cannot cross logical line boundaries except where NEWLINE is allowed by the syntax (e.g., between statements in compound statements). A logical line is constructed from one or more physical lines by following the explicit or implicit line joining rules.

Physical lines

A physical line is a sequence of characters terminated by an end-of-line sequence. In source files, any of the standard platform line termination sequences can be used - the Unix form using ASCII LF (linefeed), the Windows form using the ASCII sequence CR LF (return followed by linefeed), or the old Macintosh form using the ASCII CR (return) character. All of these forms can be used equally, regardless of platform.

When embedding Python, source code strings should be passed to Python APIs using the standard C conventions for newline characters (the \n character, representing ASCII LF, is the line terminator).


A comment starts with a hash character (#) that is not part of a string literal, and ends at the end of the physical line. A comment signifies the end of the logical line unless the implicit line joining rules are invoked. Comments are ignored by the syntax; they are not tokens.

Encoding declarations

If a comment in the first or second line of the Python script matches the regular expression coding[=:]\s*([-\w.]+), this comment is processed as an encoding declaration; the first group of this expression names the encoding of the source code file. The recommended forms of this expression are

# -*- coding: <encoding-name> -*-

which is recognized also by GNU Emacs, and

# vim:fileencoding=<encoding-name>

which is recognized by Bram Moolenaar’s VIM.

If no encoding declaration is found, the default encoding is UTF-8. In addition, if the first bytes of the file are the UTF-8 byte-order mark (b'\xef\xbb\xbf'), the declared file encoding is UTF-8 (this is supported, among others, by Microsoft’s notepad).

If an encoding is declared, the encoding name must be recognized by Python. The encoding is used for all lexical analysis, including string literals, comments and identifiers. The encoding declaration must appear on a line of its own.

Explicit line joining

Two or more physical lines may be joined into logical lines using backslash characters (\), as follows: when a physical line ends in a backslash that is not part of a string literal or comment, it is joined with the following forming a single logical line, deleting the backslash and the following end-of-line character. For example:

if 1900 < year < 2100 and 1 <= month <= 12 \
   and 1 <= day <= 31 and 0 <= hour < 24 \
   and 0 <= minute < 60 and 0 <= second < 60:   # Looks like a valid date
        return 1

A line ending in a backslash cannot carry a comment. A backslash does not continue a comment. A backslash does not continue a token except for string literals (i.e., tokens other than string literals cannot be split across physical lines using a backslash). A backslash is illegal elsewhere on a line outside a string literal.

Implicit line joining

Expressions in parentheses, square brackets or curly braces can be split over more than one physical line without using backslashes. For example:

month_names = ['Januari', 'Februari', 'Maart',      # These are the
               'April',   'Mei',      'Juni',       # Dutch names
               'Juli',    'Augustus', 'September',  # for the months
               'Oktober', 'November', 'December']   # of the year

Implicitly continued lines can carry comments. The indentation of the continuation lines is not important. Blank continuation lines are allowed. There is no NEWLINE token between implicit continuation lines. Implicitly continued lines can also occur within triple-quoted strings (see below); in that case they cannot carry comments.

Blank lines

A logical line that contains only spaces, tabs, formfeeds and possibly a comment, is ignored (i.e., no NEWLINE token is generated). During interactive input of statements, handling of a blank line may differ depending on the implementation of the read-eval-print loop. In the standard interactive interpreter, an entirely blank logical line (i.e. one containing not even whitespace or a comment) terminates a multi-line statement.


Leading whitespace (spaces and tabs) at the beginning of a logical line is used to compute the indentation level of the line, which in turn is used to determine the grouping of statements.

Tabs are replaced (from left to right) by one to eight spaces such that the total number of characters up to and including the replacement is a multiple of eight (this is intended to be the same rule as used by Unix). The total number of spaces preceding the first non-blank character then determines the line’s indentation. Indentation cannot be split over multiple physical lines using backslashes; the whitespace up to the first backslash determines the indentation.

Indentation is rejected as inconsistent if a source file mixes tabs and spaces in a way that makes the meaning dependent on the worth of a tab in spaces; a TabError is raised in that case.

Cross-platform compatibility note: because of the nature of text editors on non-UNIX platforms, it is unwise to use a mixture of spaces and tabs for the indentation in a single source file. It should also be noted that different platforms may explicitly limit the maximum indentation level.

A formfeed character may be present at the start of the line; it will be ignored for the indentation calculations above. Formfeed characters occurring elsewhere in the leading whitespace have an undefined effect (for instance, they may reset the space count to zero).

The indentation levels of consecutive lines are used to generate INDENT and DEDENT tokens, using a stack, as follows.

Before the first line of the file is read, a single zero is pushed on the stack; this will never be popped off again. The numbers pushed on the stack will always be strictly increasing from bottom to top. At the beginning of each logical line, the line’s indentation level is compared to the top of the stack. If it is equal, nothing happens. If it is larger, it is pushed on the stack, and one INDENT token is generated. If it is smaller, it must be one of the numbers occurring on the stack; all numbers on the stack that are larger are popped off, and for each number popped off a DEDENT token is generated. At the end of the file, a DEDENT token is generated for each number remaining on the stack that is larger than zero.

Here is an example of a correctly (though confusingly) indented piece of Python code:

def perm(l):
        # Compute the list of all permutations of l
    if len(l) <= 1:
                  return [l]
    r = []
    for i in range(len(l)):
             s = l[:i] + l[i+1:]
             p = perm(s)
             for x in p:
              r.append(l[i:i+1] + x)
    return r

The following example shows various indentation errors:

 def perm(l):                       # error: first line indented
for i in range(len(l)):             # error: not indented
    s = l[:i] + l[i+1:]
        p = perm(l[:i] + l[i+1:])   # error: unexpected indent
        for x in p:
                r.append(l[i:i+1] + x)
            return r                # error: inconsistent dedent

(Actually, the first three errors are detected by the parser; only the last error is found by the lexical analyzer — the indentation of return r does not match a level popped off the stack.)

Whitespace between tokens

Except at the beginning of a logical line or in string literals, the whitespace characters space, tab and formfeed can be used interchangeably to separate tokens. Whitespace is needed between two tokens only if their concatenation could otherwise be interpreted as a different token (e.g., ab is one token, but a b is two tokens).

Other tokens

Besides NEWLINE, INDENT and DEDENT, the following categories of tokens exist: identifiers, keywords, literals, operators, and delimiters. Whitespace characters (other than line terminators, discussed earlier) are not tokens, but serve to delimit tokens. Where ambiguity exists, a token comprises the longest possible string that forms a legal token, when read from left to right.

Identifiers and keywords

Identifiers (also referred to as names) are described by the following lexical definitions.

The syntax of identifiers in Python is based on the Unicode standard annex UAX-31, with elaboration and changes as defined below; see also PEP 3131 for further details.

Within the ASCII range (U+0001..U+007F), the valid characters for identifiers are the same as in Python 2.x: the uppercase and lowercase letters A through Z, the underscore _ and, except for the first character, the digits 0 through 9.

Python 3.0 introduces additional characters from outside the ASCII range (see PEP 3131). For these characters, the classification uses the version of the Unicode Character Database as included in the unicodedata module.

Identifiers are unlimited in length. Case is significant.

identifier  ::=  id_start id_continue*
id_start    ::=  <all characters in general categories Lu, Ll, Lt, Lm, Lo, Nl, the underscore, and characters with the Other_ID_Start property>
id_continue ::=  <all characters in id_start, plus characters in the categories Mn, Mc, Nd, Pc and others with the Other_ID_Continue property>

The Unicode category codes mentioned above stand for:

  • Lu - uppercase letters
  • Ll - lowercase letters
  • Lt - titlecase letters
  • Lm - modifier letters
  • Lo - other letters
  • Nl - letter numbers
  • Mn - nonspacing marks
  • Mc - spacing combining marks
  • Nd - decimal numbers
  • Pc - connector punctuations

All identifiers are converted into the normal form NFC while parsing; comparison of identifiers is based on NFC.

A non-normative HTML file listing all valid identifier characters for Unicode 4.1 can be found at http://www.dcl.hpi.uni-potsdam.de/home/loewis/table-3131.html.


The following identifiers are used as reserved words, or keywords of the language, and cannot be used as ordinary identifiers. They must be spelled exactly as written here:

False      class      finally    is         return
None       continue   for        lambda     try
True       def        from       nonlocal   while
and        del        global     not        with
as         elif       if         or         yield
assert     else       import     pass
break      except     in         raise

Reserved classes of identifiers

Certain classes of identifiers (besides keywords) have special meanings. These classes are identified by the patterns of leading and trailing underscore characters:


Not imported by from module import *. The special identifier _ is used in the interactive interpreter to store the result of the last evaluation; it is stored in the builtins module. When not in interactive mode, _ has no special meaning and is not defined. See section The import statement.


The name _ is often used in conjunction with internationalization; refer to the documentation for the gettext module for more information on this convention.

System-defined names. These names are defined by the interpreter and its implementation (including the standard library); applications should not expect to define additional names using this convention. The set of names of this class defined by Python may be extended in future versions. See section Special method names.
Class-private names. Names in this category, when used within the context of a class definition, are re-written to use a mangled form to help avoid name clashes between “private” attributes of base and derived classes. See section Identifiers (Names).


Literals are notations for constant values of some built-in types.

String and Bytes literals

String literals are described by the following lexical definitions:

stringliteral   ::=  [stringprefix](shortstring | longstring)
stringprefix    ::=  "r" | "R"
shortstring     ::=  "'" shortstringitem* "'" | '"' shortstringitem* '"'
longstring      ::=  "'''" longstringitem* "'''" | '"""' longstringitem* '"""'
shortstringitem ::=  shortstringchar | stringescapeseq
longstringitem  ::=  longstringchar | stringescapeseq
shortstringchar ::=  <any source character except "\" or newline or the quote>
longstringchar  ::=  <any source character except "\">
stringescapeseq ::=  "\" <any source character>
bytesliteral   ::=  bytesprefix(shortbytes | longbytes)
bytesprefix    ::=  "b" | "B"
shortbytes     ::=  "'" shortbytesitem* "'" | '"' shortbytesitem* '"'
longbytes      ::=  "'''" longbytesitem* "'''" | '"""' longbytesitem* '"""'
shortbytesitem ::=  shortbyteschar | bytesescapeseq
longbytesitem  ::=  longbyteschar | bytesescapeseq
shortbyteschar ::=  <any ASCII character except "\" or newline or the quote>
longbyteschar  ::=  <any ASCII character except "\">
bytesescapeseq ::=  "\" <any ASCII character>

One syntactic restriction not indicated by these productions is that whitespace is not allowed between the stringprefix or bytesprefix and the rest of the literal. The source character set is defined by the encoding declaration; it is UTF-8 if no encoding declaration is given in the source file; see section Encoding declarations.

In plain English: Both types of literals can be enclosed in matching single quotes (') or double quotes ("). They can also be enclosed in matching groups of three single or double quotes (these are generally referred to as triple-quoted strings). The backslash (\) character is used to escape characters that otherwise have a special meaning, such as newline, backslash itself, or the quote character.

String literals may optionally be prefixed with a letter 'r' or 'R'; such strings are called raw strings and treat backslashes as literal characters. As a result, '\U' and '\u' escapes in raw strings are not treated specially.

Bytes literals are always prefixed with 'b' or 'B'; they produce an instance of the bytes type instead of the str type. They may only contain ASCII characters; bytes with a numeric value of 128 or greater must be expressed with escapes.

In triple-quoted strings, unescaped newlines and quotes are allowed (and are retained), except that three unescaped quotes in a row terminate the string. (A “quote” is the character used to open the string, i.e. either ' or ".)

Unless an 'r' or 'R' prefix is present, escape sequences in strings are interpreted according to rules similar to those used by Standard C. The recognized escape sequences are:

Escape Sequence Meaning Notes
\newline Backslash and newline ignored  
\\ Backslash (\)  
\' Single quote (')  
\" Double quote (")  
\a ASCII Bell (BEL)  
\b ASCII Backspace (BS)  
\f ASCII Formfeed (FF)  
\n ASCII Linefeed (LF)  
\r ASCII Carriage Return (CR)  
\t ASCII Horizontal Tab (TAB)  
\v ASCII Vertical Tab (VT)  
\ooo Character with octal value ooo (1,3)
\xhh Character with hex value hh (2,3)

Escape sequences only recognized in string literals are:

Escape Sequence Meaning Notes
\N{name} Character named name in the Unicode database  
\uxxxx Character with 16-bit hex value xxxx (4)
\Uxxxxxxxx Character with 32-bit hex value xxxxxxxx (5)


  1. As in Standard C, up to three octal digits are accepted.
  2. Unlike in Standard C, at most two hex digits are accepted.
  3. In a bytes literal, hexadecimal and octal escapes denote the byte with the given value. In a string literal, these escapes denote a Unicode character with the given value.
  4. Individual code units which form parts of a surrogate pair can be encoded using this escape sequence. Unlike in Standard C, exactly two hex digits are required.
  5. Any Unicode character can be encoded this way, but characters outside the Basic Multilingual Plane (BMP) will be encoded using a surrogate pair if Python is compiled to use 16-bit code units (the default). Individual code units which form parts of a surrogate pair can be encoded using this escape sequence.

Unlike Standard C, all unrecognized escape sequences are left in the string unchanged, i.e., the backslash is left in the string. (This behavior is useful when debugging: if an escape sequence is mistyped, the resulting output is more easily recognized as broken.) It is also important to note that the escape sequences only recognized in string literals fall into the category of unrecognized escapes for bytes literals.

Even in a raw string, string quotes can be escaped with a backslash, but the backslash remains in the string; for example, r"\"" is a valid string literal consisting of two characters: a backslash and a double quote; r"\" is not a valid string literal (even a raw string cannot end in an odd number of backslashes). Specifically, a raw string cannot end in a single backslash (since the backslash would escape the following quote character). Note also that a single backslash followed by a newline is interpreted as those two characters as part of the string, not as a line continuation.

String literal concatenation

Multiple adjacent string literals (delimited by whitespace), possibly using different quoting conventions, are allowed, and their meaning is the same as their concatenation. Thus, "hello" 'world' is equivalent to "helloworld". This feature can be used to reduce the number of backslashes needed, to split long strings conveniently across long lines, or even to add comments to parts of strings, for example:

re.compile("[A-Za-z_]"       # letter or underscore
           "[A-Za-z0-9_]*"   # letter, digit or underscore

Note that this feature is defined at the syntactical level, but implemented at compile time. The ‘+’ operator must be used to concatenate string expressions at run time. Also note that literal concatenation can use different quoting styles for each component (even mixing raw strings and triple quoted strings).

Numeric literals

There are three types of numeric literals: integers, floating point numbers, and imaginary numbers. There are no complex literals (complex numbers can be formed by adding a real number and an imaginary number).

Note that numeric literals do not include a sign; a phrase like -1 is actually an expression composed of the unary operator ‘-‘ and the literal 1.

Integer literals

Integer literals are described by the following lexical definitions:

integer        ::=  decimalinteger | octinteger | hexinteger | bininteger
decimalinteger ::=  nonzerodigit digit* | "0"+
nonzerodigit   ::=  "1"..."9"
digit          ::=  "0"..."9"
octinteger     ::=  "0" ("o" | "O") octdigit+
hexinteger     ::=  "0" ("x" | "X") hexdigit+
bininteger     ::=  "0" ("b" | "B") bindigit+
octdigit       ::=  "0"..."7"
hexdigit       ::=  digit | "a"..."f" | "A"..."F"
bindigit       ::=  "0" | "1"

There is no limit for the length of integer literals apart from what can be stored in available memory.

Note that leading zeros in a non-zero decimal number are not allowed. This is for disambiguation with C-style octal literals, which Python used before version 3.0.

Some examples of integer literals:

7     2147483647                        0o177    0b100110111
3     79228162514264337593543950336     0o377    0x100000000
      79228162514264337593543950336              0xdeadbeef

Floating point literals

Floating point literals are described by the following lexical definitions:

floatnumber   ::=  pointfloat | exponentfloat
pointfloat    ::=  [intpart] fraction | intpart "."
exponentfloat ::=  (intpart | pointfloat) exponent
intpart       ::=  digit+
fraction      ::=  "." digit+
exponent      ::=  ("e" | "E") ["+" | "-"] digit+

Note that the integer and exponent parts are always interpreted using radix 10. For example, 077e010 is legal, and denotes the same number as 77e10. The allowed range of floating point literals is implementation-dependent. Some examples of floating point literals:

3.14    10.    .001    1e100    3.14e-10    0e0

Note that numeric literals do not include a sign; a phrase like -1 is actually an expression composed of the unary operator - and the literal 1.

Imaginary literals

Imaginary literals are described by the following lexical definitions:

imagnumber ::=  (floatnumber | intpart) ("j" | "J")

An imaginary literal yields a complex number with a real part of 0.0. Complex numbers are represented as a pair of floating point numbers and have the same restrictions on their range. To create a complex number with a nonzero real part, add a floating point number to it, e.g., (3+4j). Some examples of imaginary literals:

3.14j   10.j    10j     .001j   1e100j  3.14e-10j


The following tokens are operators:

+       -       *       **      /       //      %
<<      >>      &       |       ^       ~
<       >       <=      >=      ==      !=


The following tokens serve as delimiters in the grammar:

(       )       [       ]       {       }
,       :       .       ;       @       =
+=      -=      *=      /=      //=     %=
&=      |=      ^=      >>=     <<=     **=

The period can also occur in floating-point and imaginary literals. A sequence of three periods has a special meaning as an ellipsis literal. The second half of the list, the augmented assignment operators, serve lexically as delimiters, but also perform an operation.

The following printing ASCII characters have special meaning as part of other tokens or are otherwise significant to the lexical analyzer:

'       "       #       \

The following printing ASCII characters are not used in Python. Their occurrence outside string literals and comments is an unconditional error:

$       ?