One of the most common tasks we might have to do in a program is to count instances of an element in a collection. Below, we will examine a Python list and look at one particular way we count elements, and then see how the collections module allows us to improve upon our implementation using the Counter collection.

First, lets define a list of items. Since we have been working on a application for our clothing store, lets stick with clothing items:

clothes_list = ['skirt', 'hoodie', 'dress', 'blouse', 'jeans', 'shoes', 'skirt', 'skirt', 'jeans', 'hoodie', 'boots', 'jeans', 'jacket', 't-shirt', 'skirt', 'skirt', 'dress', 'shoes', 'blouse', 'hoodie', 'skirt', 'boots', 'shoes', 'boots', 'jeans', 'hoodie', 'blouse', 'hoodie', 'shoes', 'shoes', 'blouse', 'boots', 'blouse', 'hoodie', 't-shirt', 'jeans', 'dress', 'skirt', 'jacket', 'boots', 'skirt', 'dress', 'jeans', 'jeans', 'jacket', 'jeans', 'shoes', 'dress', 'hoodie', 'blouse']

If we wanted to create a representation of how many of each item exist in our collection, we could use a loop and a dictionary. Here is what it might look like:

counted_items = {} for item in clothes_list: if item not in counted_items: counted_items[item] = 1 else: counted_items[item] += 1 print(counted_items)

This would output (in no particular order):

{'skirt': 8, 'hoodie': 7, 'dress': 5, 'blouse': 6, 'jeans': 8, 'shoes': 6, 'boots': 5, 'jacket': 3, 't-shirt': 2}

While this is a perfectly sound solution to our counting problem, we can actually accomplish this goal much quicker using the Counter container!

The Counter container instantly counts elements for any hashable object. It stores the data as a dictionary where the keys are the elements and the values are the number of occurrences. Here is what the same problem looks like, but with the Counter container:

from collections import Counter counted_items = Counter(clothes_list) print(counted_items)

Would Output:

Counter({'skirt': 8, 'jeans': 8, 'hoodie': 7, 'blouse': 6, 'shoes': 6, 'dress': 5, 'boots': 5, 'jacket': 3, 't-shirt': 2})

This allows us to create a much more elegant solution without many lines of code. Additionally, the Counter class has methods that provide further utility when working with our data. These methods include mathematical operations for subtracting one count dictionary from another, finding the most common elements, and even generating a new list of elements based on the number of occurrences.

For more information about the Counter class, take a look at the Python documentation.

Let’s now practice using the Counter class!



We have decided to add some more logic to our clothing store application to automatically calculate how much of each product has been sold based on our inventory at the start of the day vs the end of the day.

First, let’s define a function called find_amount_sold. Our function will need three parameters: opening, closing, and item. For now, inside of the function, simply add the keyword return. Also, don’t forget to import the Counter class as we will be using it throughout the checkpoints.


At this point, we could create two loops to meticulously count every item in each list, but instead, let’s create two Counter objects to calculate a count of items in our opening and closing inventory.

Inside of our new function, and before it returns, create a variable called opening_count and store a Counter object passing in the opening parameter as the counter’s input.

Then, create a variable called closing_count which stores a Counter object and passes in the closing parameter into the Counter.


Next, we’ll have to subtract the closing counted data from the opening counted data in order to get the amount sold for every item. Luckily, the Counter container has a method that allows us to accomplish this really easily.

Take a look at the Python documentation for the .subtract() method.

When you are ready, call the .subtract() method on opening_count and pass in closing_count as the first argument.


Awesome! Now we have our Counter object with the difference in item inventory. You may have noticed earlier we defined a parameter named item in our function declaration. This is because the goal of our function is to return the difference in inventory for a specific item rather than all of them!

Using the parameter item, access the item’s inventory from the opening_count Counter object and return it.


Finally, let’s test out your function by calling it with opening_inventory as the first argument, closing_inventory as the second argument, and t-shirt as the third argument.

Store the result in a variable called tshirts_sold and then use print() to display it!

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