Add list to set?


Tested on Python 2.6 interpreter:

>>> a=set('abcde')
>>> a
set(['a', 'c', 'b', 'e', 'd'])
>>> l=['f','g']
>>> l
['f', 'g']
>>> a.add(l)
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<pyshell#35>", line 1, in <module>
TypeError: list objects are unhashable

I think that I can't add the list to the set because there's no way Python can tell If I have added the same list twice. Is there a workaround?

EDIT: I want to add the list itself, not its elements.

4/23/2020 6:26:15 AM

Accepted Answer

You can't add a list to a set because lists are mutable, meaning that you can change the contents of the list after adding it to the set.

You can however add tuples to the set, because you cannot change the contents of a tuple:

>>> a.add(('f', 'g'))
>>> print a
set(['a', 'c', 'b', 'e', 'd', ('f', 'g')])

Edit: some explanation: The documentation defines a set as an unordered collection of distinct hashable objects. The objects have to be hashable so that finding, adding and removing elements can be done faster than looking at each individual element every time you perform these operations. The specific algorithms used are explained in the Wikipedia article. Pythons hashing algorithms are explained on and pythons __hash__ function in the python reference.

Some facts:

  • Set elements as well as dictionary keys have to be hashable
  • Some unhashable datatypes:
    • list: use tuple instead
    • set: use frozenset instead
    • dict: has no official counterpart, but there are some recipes
  • Object instances are hashable by default with each instance having a unique hash. You can override this behavior as explained in the python reference.
5/23/2017 12:18:24 PM

To add the elements of a list to a set, use update


s.update(t): return set s with elements added from t


>>> s = set([1, 2])
>>> l = [3, 4]
>>> s.update(l)
>>> s
{1, 2, 3, 4}

If you instead want to add the entire list as a single element to the set, you can't because lists aren't hashable. You could instead add a tuple, e.g. s.add(tuple(l)). See also TypeError: unhashable type: 'list' when using built-in set function for more information on that.


Hopefully this helps:

>>> seta = set('1234')
>>> listb = ['a','b','c']
>>> seta.union(listb)
set(['a', 'c', 'b', '1', '3', '2', '4'])
>>> seta
set(['1', '3', '2', '4'])
>>> seta = seta.union(listb)
>>> seta
set(['a', 'c', 'b', '1', '3', '2', '4'])

Please notice the function set.update(). The documentation says:

Update a set with the union of itself and others.


list objects are unhashable. you might want to turn them in to tuples though.


Sets can't have mutable (changeable) elements/members. A list, being mutable, cannot be a member of a set.

As sets are mutable, you cannot have a set of sets! You can have a set of frozensets though.

(The same kind of "mutability requirement" applies to the keys of a dict.)

Other answers have already given you code, I hope this gives a bit of insight. I'm hoping Alex Martelli will answer with even more details.


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