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Complex numbers - Python

In this second of nine parts focusing on a quick overview of the Python language for experienced programmers, you'll learn how Python handles data types such as strings, and more. This article is excerpted from chapter four of Python in a Nutshell, Second Edition, written by Alex Martelli (O'Reilly; ISBN: 0596100469). Copyright 2007 O'Reilly Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission from the publisher. Available from booksellers or direct from O'Reilly Media.

  1. Data Types in Python
  2. Complex numbers
  3. Strings
  4. Tuples
By: O'Reilly Media
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September 18, 2008

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A complex number is made up of two floating-point values, one each for the real and imaginary parts. You can access the parts of a complex object z as read-only attributes z.real and z.imag. You can specify an imaginary literal as a floating-point or decimal literal followed by a j or J:

  0j, 0.j, 0.0j, .0j, 1j, 1.j, 1.0j, 1e0j, 1.e0j, 1.0e0j

The j at the end of the literal indicates the square root of -1, as commonly used in electrical engineering (some other disciplines use i for this purpose, but Python has chosen j). There are no other complex literals. To denote any constant complex number, add or subtract a floating-point (or integer) literal and an imaginary one. For example, to denote the complex number that equals one, use expressions like 1+0j or 1.0+0.0j.


A sequence is an ordered container of items, indexed by nonnegative integers. Python provides built-in sequence types known as strings (plain and Unicode), tuples, and lists. Library and extension modules provide other sequence types, and you can write yet others yourself (as discussed in "Sequences" on page 109). You can manipulate sequences in a variety of ways, as discussed in "Sequence Operations" on page 53.


A Python concept that generalizes the idea of "sequence" is that of iterables, covered in "The for Statement" on page 64 and "Iterators" on page 65. All sequences are iterable: whenever I say that you can use an iterable, you can, in particular, use a sequence (for example, a list).

Also, when I say that you can use an iterable, I mean, in general, a bounded iterable, which is an iterable that eventually stops yielding items. All sequences are bounded. Iterables, in general, can be unbounded, but if you try to use an unbounded iterable without special precautions, you could easily produce a program that never terminates, or one that exhausts all available memory.

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