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I looking over some old code, I had written the function below with a C-style for-loop iterating over a count variable. I then fixed it up with new knowledge, but still am suspicious that there is even a better way to do this.

The function should behave like so:

>>> join_list(['a'])
>>> join_list(['a', 'b'])
'a or b'
>>> join_list(['a', 'b', 'c'])
'a, b, or c'

The function I have currently:

def join_list(my_list):
    length = len(my_list)
    if length == 1:
        return my_list[0]
    elif length == 2:
        return ' or '.join(my_list)
        head = ', '.join(my_list[:-1])
        return head + ', or ' + my_list[-1]
share|improve this question
There's no docstring! – Gareth Rees Feb 8 '14 at 10:28
To be fair I defined this function within my if __name__ == '__main__' conditional, but I digress I think the code speaks for itself :). – Winny Feb 8 '14 at 17:34
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Looks pretty good. The only problem I can see is that you're not doing a check to make sure the list is not empty: if it is, then you'll try to access my_list[-1] in the final else clause, which will raise an IndexError.

Hence, I'd simply add a check up front for length == 0 and return '' in that case.

share|improve this answer
if you handle 2 and 3 item cases first you can fall through to ''.join(my_list) which covers both 0 and 1 – theodox Feb 8 '14 at 17:41
I like that a lot, but I want to test for least first. All I need to change is the first clause to if length <= 1: ''.join(my_list) – Winny Feb 8 '14 at 18:06

You could also write, a bit shorter:

def join_list(items):
    if not items:
        return ''
    *init, last = map(str, items)
    return (', '.join(init) + ' or '*bool(init) + last)


>>> join_list(range(5))
'0, 1, 2, 3 or 4'
share|improve this answer
I tested that on Python 2.7.6 and Python 3.3. Looks like the asterisk in *init, last = map(str, items) raises a SyntaxError on Python 2.7.6. Do you know what that feature of Python 3.3 is called? – Winny Feb 9 '14 at 4:49
@Winny Sorry, forgot to mention its python3 code. Its called extended unpacking (pep 3132). – Lennart_96 Feb 10 '14 at 9:09

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