Randomly Select an Item from a List in Python


In Python, lists are among the most widely used data structures due to their versatility. They can hold a variety of data types and are easily manipulated. One task you may come across is having to randomly select an item from a list.

This Byte will guide you through how to do this using a few different methods. From this, you can then choose which one you prefer or best fits your use-case.

Why randomly select an item?

Randomly selecting an item from a list is a common operation in many programming tasks. For instance, it can be used in games for creating random behaviors, in machine learning for splitting datasets into training and test sets, or in simulations for generating other random inputs. Understanding how to randomly select an item from a list can be a useful tool in your Python code.

Method: Using random.choice()

The random.choice() function is the most straightforward way to select a random item from a list. This function is part of the random module, so you need to import this module before using it.

Here's an example:

import random

my_list = ['apple', 'banana', 'cherry', 'date', 'elderberry']
random_item = random.choice(my_list)


Running this code will output a random item from the list each time. For example:

$ python3 random_choice.py

Heads up! The random.choice() function will raise an IndexError if the input list is empty. So, make sure your list has at least one item before using this function.

Method: Using random.randint()

Another way to randomly select an item from a list is by using the random.randint() function. This function generates a random integer within a specified range, which can be used as an index to select an item from the list.

Here's how you can do it:

import random

my_list = ['apple', 'banana', 'cherry', 'date', 'elderberry']
random_index = random.randint(0, len(my_list) - 1)
random_item = my_list[random_index]


Running this code will also output a random item from the list each time. For example:

$ python3 random_randint.py

The random.randint() function includes both end points while generating the random integer, so we must subtract 1 from the list length to avoid an IndexError.

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This method might be best if you only want to select a random choice from part of the list. For example, if your list is 100 items long, you can set the 2nd argument to 50 to only choose from the first half. Thus, this method gives you a bit more control than random.choice().

Randomly Selecting Multiple Items

You can easily select multiple items from a list randomly using the random.sample() function. This function returns a particular length list of items chosen from the sequence you provide. Let's say we want to select three random items from a list:

import random

my_list = ['apple', 'banana', 'cherry', 'date', 'elderberry']
random_sample = random.sample(my_list, 3)


This might output:

['date', 'apple', 'cherry']

The random.sample() function is a great way to get multiple random items from a list. However, keep in mind that the number of items you request should not exceed the length of the list! If it does, you'll get a ValueError.

Note: The random.sample() function does not allow for duplicates. Each item in the returned list will be unique.

Randomly Choosing Unique Values

Depending on your use-case, you may want to select random items from a list but don't want to select the same item twice. In this case, you can use the random.sample() function as it ensures that there are no duplicates in the output.

However, if you want to select items randomly from a list and allow for duplicates, you can use a loop with random.choice(). Here's an example:

import random

my_list = ['apple', 'banana', 'cherry', 'date', 'elderberry']
random_choices = [random.choice(my_list) for _ in range(3)]


This might output:

['date', 'date', 'cherry']

Here, 'date' was chosen twice. This method is useful when you want to allow your code to choose the same item multiple times.


Random selection from a list is a common task in Python, and the random module provides several methods to achieve this. The random.choice() and random.randint() methods are useful for selecting a single item, while random.sample() can select multiple items without repetition. If you need to select multiple items with possible repetitions, a loop with random.choice() is the way to go.

Last Updated: August 24th, 2023
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