Skip to content

Effortlessly Understand the Return Statement in Python

The Python return Statement: Usage and Best Practices

The Python return statement is a fundamental component of functions and methods in Python. It allows you to send objects back to the caller code, which are known as the function’s return value. In this tutorial, we will explore how to use the return statement effectively in Python functions, how to return single or multiple values, and best practices for using return statements.

Getting Started With Python Functions

Before diving into the specifics of the return statement, let’s first understand the basics of Python functions. Functions in Python are named code blocks that perform a specific computation. They can be thought of as subroutines, routines, or procedures. You can reuse functions by calling them from different parts of your code.

To define a function, you use the def keyword followed by the function name and a set of parentheses containing any parameters. Here’s an example:

def greet(name):
return f"Hello, {name}!"
print(greet("Alice")) # Output: Hello, Alice!

In the above example, the greet function takes a parameter name and returns a greeting message using an f-string.

Understanding the Python return Statement

The return statement is used to specify the result of a function. It allows you to send back values to the caller code. In Python, a function can have multiple return statements, but only one of them will be executed during the function’s execution. Once a return statement is encountered, the function immediately exits and returns the specified value.

There are two types of return statements in Python:

Explicit return Statements

An explicit return statement is used to explicitly specify the return value of a function. Here’s an example:

def add(a, b):
return a + b
result = add(3, 5)
print(result) # Output: 8

In the above example, the add function takes two parameters a and b, and returns their sum using the return statement.

Implicit return Statements

An implicit return statement is used when a function does not have any return statement or when a return statement without an expression is encountered. In this case, the function returns None by default.

Here’s an example:

def say_hello():
result = say_hello()
print(result) # Output: None

In the above example, the say_hello function does not have a return statement. When called, it prints “Hello!” but does not return any value. As a result, the variable result is assigned None.

Returning vs Printing

It’s important to note the difference between returning a value from a function and printing a value using the print function. When you return a value, it can be assigned to a variable or used in further computations. On the other hand, printing a value merely displays it on the console.

Here’s an example to illustrate the difference:

def multiply(a, b):
return a * b
result = multiply(2, 4)
print(result) # Output: 8
print(multiply(3, 6)) # Output: 18

In the above example, the multiply function multiplies two numbers and returns the result. The first call to multiply assigns the returned value to the variable result and then prints it. The second call directly prints the returned value without assigning it to a variable.

Returning Multiple Values

Python functions can also return multiple values using tuples. A tuple is an immutable sequence type in Python that can store multiple values.

Here’s an example:

def divide(a, b):
quotient = a b
remainder = a % b
return quotient, remainder
result = divide(10, 3)
print(result) # Output: (3, 1)
quotient, remainder = divide(10, 3)
print("Quotient:", quotient) # Output: Quotient: 3
print("Remainder:", remainder) # Output: Remainder: 1

In the above example, the divide function divides two numbers and returns both the quotient and the remainder as a tuple. The returned tuple can be unpacked into separate variables, as shown in the second print statement.

Using the Python return Statement: Best Practices

While the return statement is simple to use, there are some best practices that you should observe when using it in your functions.

Returning None Explicitly

When a function does not have a specific value to return, it is considered good practice to explicitly return None. This communicates to the caller code that the function does not produce a meaningful result.

Here’s an example:

def do_nothing():
return None

By explicitly returning None, you make the code more readable and self-explanatory.

Remembering the Return Value

When calling a function that returns a value, it’s important to store or use the returned value appropriately. Ignoring the return value may lead to unexpected behavior or errors in your program.

def calculate_total(a, b):
return a + b
calculate_total(2, 4) # Return value is not stored
sum = calculate_total(2, 4) # Return value is stored in sum variable
print(sum) # Output: 6

In the above example, the first call to calculate_total does not store the return value. This can lead to difficult-to-debug issues. The second call stores the return value in the sum variable, allowing it to be used later.

Avoiding Complex Expressions

It is generally recommended to avoid complex expressions in return statements. Complex expressions can make the code harder to read and understand. If necessary, break down the expression into simpler parts and use variables to make the code more readable.

def calculate_average(numbers):
return sum(numbers) len(numbers) # Complex expression
def calculate_average(numbers):
total = sum(numbers)
count = len(numbers)
return total count # Simpler expression

In the above example, the second version of calculate_average is easier to understand because it breaks down the calculation into multiple steps.

Returning Values vs Modifying Globals

In Python, it is generally considered better practice to return values from functions instead of modifying global variables. Modifying global variables can lead to unexpected side effects and make your code harder to reason about and test.

count = 0
def increment_counter():
global count
count += 1
def get_counter():
global count
return count

In the above example, the functions increment_counter and get_counter use a global variable count. While this may be necessary in some cases, it’s generally better to avoid global variables and instead return values from functions.

Using return With Conditionals

The return statement can be used with conditionals to control the flow of your program. When a return statement is encountered inside an if or else block, the function immediately exits and returns the specified value.

def is_even(number):
if number % 2 == 0:
return True
return False

In the above example, the is_even function checks if a number is even and returns True if it is, and False otherwise.

Returning True or False

In Python, you can directly return boolean values True or False from a function. This is useful in situations where you need to perform a simple check and return the result.

def is_odd(number):
return number % 2 != 0

In the above example, the is_odd function returns True if a number is odd, and False otherwise.

Short-Circuiting Loops

In some cases, you may want to exit a loop early and return a value. You can use the return statement inside a loop to achieve this. Once the return statement is encountered, the loop terminates, and the function returns the specified value.

def find_element(elements, target):
for element in elements:
if element == target:
return True
return False

In the above example, the find_element function searches for a target element in a list. If the target element is found, the loop is immediately terminated, and the function returns True. If the loop completes without finding the target element, the function returns False.

Recognizing Dead Code

When a return statement is encountered in a function, any code after it will not be executed. This can lead to dead code, which is code that will never be executed. It’s important to recognize and remove dead code as it can make your program harder to understand.

def is_positive(number):
if number > 0:
return True
return False
print("This line will never be executed")

In the above example, the print statement after the return statement will never be executed. It can be safely removed to improve code readability.

Returning Multiple Named-Objects

In addition to returning multiple values using tuples, you can also return multiple named objects using dictionaries or custom objects. This can enhance the readability of your code by giving meaningful names to the returned values.

def get_employee_details():
return {
"name": "Alice",
"age": 30,
"department": "HR"
employee = get_employee_details()
print(employee["name"]) # Output: Alice
print(employee["age"]) # Output: 30

In the above example, the get_employee_details function returns a dictionary containing employee details. The returned dictionary can be accessed using meaningful keys.

Returning Functions: Closures

In Python, you can also return functions from other functions. This is known as a closure. A closure is a function object that remembers values in the enclosing scope, even if they are not present in memory.

Here’s an example:

def outer_function():
message = "Hello, "
def inner_function(name):
return message + name
return inner_function
greet = outer_function()
print(greet("Alice")) # Output: Hello, Alice

In the above example, the outer_function returns the inner_function. The inner_function has access to the message variable from the enclosing scope of outer_function, even after outer_function has finished executing.

Taking and Returning Functions: Decorators

Decorators are a powerful feature in Python that allow you to modify or enhance the behavior of functions without changing their source code. They can be implemented by taking a function as an argument and returning another function.

Here’s a simple example of a decorator:

def decorator_function(original_function):
def wrapper_function():
print("Before the decorated function is called")
print("After the decorated function is called")
return wrapper_function
def decorated_function():
print("Inside the decorated function")

In the above example, the decorator_function takes the original_function as an argument and returns the wrapper_function. The wrapper_function adds additional behavior before and after the original_function is called. The @decorator_function syntax is used to apply the decorator to the decorated_function.

Returning User-Defined Objects: The Factory Pattern

In some cases, you may want to return user-defined objects from functions. This can be useful when you need to create multiple instances of the same object with different initial configurations. The factory pattern is a design pattern that encapsulates the object creation logic inside a function.

Here’s an example:

class Animal:
def __init__(self, name, species): = name
self.species = species
def create_animal(name, species):
return Animal(name, species)
dog = create_animal("Buddy", "Dog")
cat = create_animal("Whiskers", "Cat")

In the above example, the create_animal function acts as a factory by creating instances of the Animal class and returning them. This allows us to create animals with different names and species easily.

Using return in tryfinally Blocks

The tryfinally statement in Python allows you to execute cleanup code regardless of whether an exception occurred. You can use the return statement inside a finally block to return a value while still ensuring that the cleanup code is executed.

Here’s an example:

def division(a, b):
result = a b
return result
print("Cleanup code")
print(division(10, 2)) # Output: 5.0

In the above example, the division function performs a division operation inside a try block. If no exception occurs, the result is returned. In either case, the cleanup code in the finally block is executed.

Using return in Generator Functions

Generator functions are a special kind of function that returns an iterator, which can be used to iterate over a sequence of values. The return statement is used in generator functions to indicate the end of the iteration and stop the generation of values.

Here’s an example:

def countdown(n):
while n > 0:
yield n
n -= 1
for number in countdown(5):

In the above example, the countdown function is a generator function that yields the numbers from n to 1. Once the return statement is encountered, the iteration stops.


In this tutorial, we explored the usage and best practices of the Python return statement. We learned how to use return to specify the result of a function, return multiple values, control the flow of your program, and enhance code readability. By following these best practices, you can write more Pythonic and robust functions.

Remember that the return statement is a powerful tool that allows you to make your functions more flexible and reusable. Use it wisely to convey the correct information back to the caller code and to improve the overall quality of your Python programs.