Why is semicolon allowed in this Python snippet?


Python does not warrant the use of semicolons to end statements.

So why is this (below) allowed?

import pdb; pdb.set_trace()
Asked By: canadadry



Semicolons are part of valid syntax: 8. Compound statements (The Python Language Reference)

Answered By: Dmitry B.

Python does not require semicolons to terminate statements. Semicolons can be used to delimit statements if you wish to put multiple statements on the same line.

Now, why is this allowed? It’s a simple design decision. I don’t think Python needs this semicolon thing, but somebody thought it would be nice to have and added it to the language.

Answered By: André Caron

Python does let you use a semicolon to denote the end of a statement if you are including more than one statement on a line.

Answered By: Godwin

A quote from “When Pythons Attack

Don’t terminate all of your statements with a semicolon. It’s technically legal to do this in Python, but is totally useless unless you’re placing more than one statement on a single line (e.g., x=1; y=2; z=3).

Answered By: CommunistPancake

From 8. Compound statements:

Compound statements consist of one or more ‘clauses.’ A clause
consists of a header and a ‘suite.’ The clause headers of a particular
compound statement are all at the same indentation level. Each clause
header begins with a uniquely identifying keyword and ends with a
colon. A suite is a group of statements controlled by a clause. A
suite can be one or more semicolon-separated simple statements on the
same line as the header, following the header’s colon, or it can be
one or more indented statements on subsequent lines
. Only the latter
form of suite can contain nested compound statements; the following is
illegal, mostly because it wouldn’t be clear to which if clause a
following else clause would belong:

if test1: if test2: print x

Also note that the semicolon binds tighter than the colon in this
context, so that in the following example, either all or none of the
print statements are executed:

if x < y < z: print x; print y; print z


compound_stmt ::=  if_stmt
                   | while_stmt
                   | for_stmt
                   | try_stmt
                   | with_stmt
                   | funcdef
                   | classdef
                   | decorated
suite         ::=  stmt_list NEWLINE | NEWLINE INDENT statement+ DEDENT
statement     ::=  stmt_list NEWLINE | compound_stmt
stmt_list     ::=  simple_stmt (";" simple_stmt)* [";"]
Answered By: chown

Semicolons can be used to one line two or more commands. They don’t have to be used, but they aren’t restricted.

The semicolon ( ; ) allows multiple statements on the single line given that neither statement starts a new code block.

Python – Basic Syntax

Answered By: craniumonempty

Multiple statements on one line may include semicolons as separators. For example: 8. Compound statements. In your case, it makes for an easy insertion of a point to break into the debugger.

Also, as mentioned by Mark Lutz in the Learning Python Book, it is technically legal (although unnecessary and annoying) to terminate all your statements with semicolons.

Answered By: mandarg

As everyone else has noted, you can use semicolons to separate statements. You don’t have to, and it’s not the usual style.

As for why this is useful, some people like to put two or more really trivial short statements on a single line (personally I think this turns several trivial easily skimmed lines into one complex-looking line and makes it harder to see that it’s trivial).

But it’s almost a requirement when you’re invoking Python one liners from the shell using python -c '<some python code>'. Here you can’t use indentation to separate statements, so if your one-liner is really a two-liner, you’ll need to use a semicolon. And if you want to use other arguments in your one-liner, you’ll have to import sys to get at sys.argv, which requires a separate import statement. e.g.

python -c "import sys; print ' '.join(sorted(sys.argv[1:]))" 5 2 3 1 4
1 2 3 4 5
Answered By: Ben

Python uses the ; as a separator, not a terminator. You can also use them at the end of a line, which makes them look like a statement terminator, but this is legal only because blank statements are legal in Python — a line that contains a semicolon at the end is two statements, the second one blank.

Answered By: kindall

Semicolons (like dots, commas and parentheses) tend to cause religious wars. Still, they (or some similar symbol) are useful in any programming language for various reasons.

  • Practical: the ability to put several short commands that belong conceptually together on the same line. A program text that looks like a narrow snake has the opposite effect of what is intended by newlines and indentation, which is highlighting structure.

  • Conceptual: separation of concerns between pure syntax (in this case, for a sequence of commands) from presentation (e.g. newline), in the old days called “pretty-printing”.

Observation: for highlighting structure, indentation could be augmented/replaced by vertical lines in the obvious way, serving as a “visual ruler” to see where an indentation begins and ends. Different colors (e.g. following the color code for resistors) may compensate for crowding.

Answered By: Raymond

Semicolon in the interpreter

Having read the answers, I still miss one important aspect of using semicolons, possibly the only one where it really makes a difference…

When you’re working in an interpreter REPL (the Python interactive shell, IDLE, and IPython) the value of the last expression is printed to the screen and usually this is the intended behavior.

Using an expression for side effects

But in some cases you want to evaluate an expression for its side effects only, e.g., to see the results of your simulation plotted by matplotlib.

In this cases you (probably) don’t want to see the screenful of reprs of matplotlib objects that are sometimes returned by a call to a matplotlib function and, in IPython at least, one of the possibilities you have is to append a semicolon to the overly verbose statement, now IPython sees the input line as composed by two expressions, the matplotlib invocation and a null statement, so that the value of the compound expression is None and nothing is printed to the screen by the interpreter
(the other possibility being assignment, as in _ = plot(...) but I find that a bit more intrusive).

Personal remark

IMHO, the use of the semicolon to suppress not desired output in the interpreter has become more relevant following the introduction of the IPython notebook, that permits to save the input and the output, including graphical output, of an interpreter session for documentation and eventual reuse.

Answered By: gboffi

I realize I am biased as an old C programmer, but there are times when the various Python conventions make things hard to follow. I find the indent convention a bit of an annoyance at times.

Sometimes, clarity of when a statement or block ends is very useful. Standard C code will often read something like this:

for(i=0; i<100; i++) {
    do something here;
    do another thing here;

continue doing things;

where you use the whitespace for a lot of clarity – and it is easy to see where the loop ends.

Python does let you terminate with an (optional) semicolon. As noted above, that does not mean that there is a statement to execute followed by a ‘null’ statement. SO, for example,


Is the same as


If you believe that the first one has a null statement at the end of each line, try – as suggested – doing this:


It will throw a syntax error.

Personally, I find the semicolon to make code more readable when you have lots of nesting and functions with many arguments and/or long-named arguments. So, to my eye, this is a lot clearer than other choices:

if some_boolean_is_true:

since, to me, it lets you know that last ‘)’ ends some ‘block’ that ran over many lines.

I personally think there is much to much made of PEP style guidelines, IDEs that enforce them, and the belief there is ‘only one Pythonic way to do things’. If you believe the latter, go look at how to format numbers: as of now, Python supports four different ways to do it.

I am sure I will be flamed by some diehards, but the compiler/interpreter doesn’t care if the arguments have long or short names, and – but for the indentation convention in Python – doesn’t care about whitespace. The biggest problem with code is giving clarity to another human (and even yourself after months of work) to understand what is going on, where things start and end, etc.

Answered By: eSurfsnake

It’s allowed because authors decided to allow it:
6. Simple statements

If moving to the question why authors decided to do so, I guess it’s so because semicolon is allowed as a simple statement termination at least in the following languages: C++, C, C#, R, MATLAB, and Perl.

So it’s faster to move into usage of Python for people with background in other language. And there are no lose of generality in such decision.

Related to the Matplotlib library:

import numpy as np
import matplotlib as plt

%matplotlib notebook
linear_data = np.array([1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8])
quadratic_data = linear_data**2
xvals = range(len(linear_data))
plt.barh(xvals, linear_data, height = 0.3, color='b')
plt.barh(xvals, quadratic_data, height = 0.3, left=linear_data, color='r')

If you don’t provide a semicolon at the end of the barh (horizontal bar), the output is a plot + a function address.
But if you use semicolons at the end of both barh lines, then it only shows the plot and suppresses the output for the function address.

Something like this:

Answered By: Farhan Hai Khan

Semicolon (";") is only needed for separation of statements within a same block, such as
if we have the following C code:

    largest = a;  // Here 'largest' and 'count' are integer variables
    count += 1;

It can be written in Python in either of the two forms:

if a > b:   
    largest = a
    count = count + 1


if a > b:    largest = a; count = count + 1

In the above example, you could have any number of statements within an if block and can be separated by ";" instead.

I hope that nothing is as simple as the above explanation.

Answered By: Mohd Asim
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