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What is != in Python

Understanding the "!=" Operator in Python

When you're starting out in programming, you'll quickly come across various symbols and notations that might seem confusing at first. One such symbol is != in Python. Simply put, != is the not-equal-to operator. It's used to compare two values to see if they are different from each other.

The Basics of Comparison Operators

Before diving into the != operator, let's understand what a comparison operator is. In programming, comparison operators are used to compare two values. The result of this comparison is either True or False. These two outcomes are known as Boolean values, named after George Boole, an English mathematician who helped lay the groundwork for digital logic.

Python includes several comparison operators:

  • == (equal to)
  • != (not equal to)
  • > (greater than)
  • < (less than)
  • >= (greater than or equal to)
  • <= (less than or equal to)

Each of these operators helps us make decisions in our code by allowing us to check conditions and react accordingly.

The Not-Equal-To Operator: !=

Now, let's focus on the != operator. Imagine you have two apples. One is red, and the other is green. If someone asked you if both apples are the same color, you would say "No," because one is red and the other is green. In Python, the != operator does something similar. It checks if two values are different.

Code Example: Using !=

# Define two different colors
color1 = "red"
color2 = "green"

# Compare the colors
are_colors_different = color1 != color2

# Print the result
print(are_colors_different)  # Output: True

In the code above, color1 is not equal to color2, so are_colors_different is True.

Comparing Numbers

The != operator isn't limited to strings like in our apple example. It can also be used to compare numbers.

Code Example: Comparing Numbers

# Define two different numbers
number1 = 10
number2 = 20

# Check if the numbers are not equal
are_numbers_different = number1 != number2

# Print the result
print(are_numbers_different)  # Output: True

Here, 10 is not equal to 20, so are_numbers_different is True.

Checking for Inequality in Lists

You can also use != to compare complex data types, such as lists.

Code Example: Comparing Lists

# Define two lists
list1 = [1, 2, 3]
list2 = [1, 2, 4]

# Check if the lists are not equal
are_lists_different = list1 != list2

# Print the result
print(are_lists_different)  # Output: True

The third element in each list is different, so are_lists_different is True.

The Role of != in Control Flow

In programming, we often need to make decisions based on conditions. The != operator is commonly used in if statements to execute code only when a certain condition is met.

Code Example: Using != in an if Statement

# Define a variable for the user's age
user_age = 18

# Check if the user is not 21
if user_age != 21:
    print("You are not 21 years old.")

If the user's age is not 21, the message will be printed.

!= and ==: Two Sides of the Same Coin

While != checks for inequality, == checks for equality. It's important not to confuse the two.

Code Example: Equality vs. Inequality

# Define two variables
a = 7
b = 7

# Check for equality
print(a == b)  # Output: True

# Check for inequality
print(a != b)  # Output: False

In this scenario, a is equal to b, so a == b is True, and a != b is False.

Common Mistakes and Misunderstandings

It's common for beginners to confuse = (the assignment operator) with == and !=. Remember, = is used to assign a value to a variable, while == and != are used to compare values.

Code Example: Assignment vs. Comparison

# Assignment
x = 5

# Comparison
print(x != 6)  # Output: True
print(x == 5)  # Output: True

In the first line, we are assigning the value 5 to x. In the comparisons, we're checking if x is not equal to 6 and if x is equal to 5.

Intuition and Analogies

Think of the != operator as a way of asking, "Are these two things different?" If you have two puzzle pieces, and you're trying to figure out if they fit together, you're essentially asking if the shapes are not equal. If they are not equal (they don't fit), then the answer is True; they are indeed different.


The != operator is a fundamental part of Python that allows us to compare values for inequality. As you continue your journey in programming, you'll find that this operator, along with its counterparts, forms the basis of many decision-making processes in code. It's like having a conversation with the computer, asking it to tell you whether two things are not the same. If you grasp this concept, you're well on your way to mastering the art of programming logic. So next time you see !=, remember, it's just Python's way of spotting the difference.