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How to Fix Python Invalid Syntax Error

Invalid Syntax in Python: Common Reasons for SyntaxError

Python is known for its simple syntax. However, when you’re learning Python for the first time or when you’ve come to Python with a solid background in another programming language, you may run into some things that Python doesn’t allow. If you’ve ever received a SyntaxError when trying to run your Python code, then this guide can help you. Throughout this tutorial, you’ll see common examples of invalid syntax in Python and learn how to resolve the issue.

By the end of this tutorial, you’ll be able to:

  • Identify invalid syntax in Python
  • Make sense of SyntaxError tracebacks
  • Resolve invalid syntax or prevent it altogether

Invalid Syntax in Python

When you run your Python code, the interpreter will first parse it to convert it into Python byte code, which it will then execute. The interpreter will find any invalid syntax in Python during this first stage of program execution, also known as the parsing stage. If the interpreter can’t parse your Python code successfully, then this means that you used invalid syntax somewhere in your code. The interpreter will attempt to show you where that error occurred.

When you’re learning Python for the first time, it can be frustrating to get a SyntaxError. Python will attempt to help you determine where the invalid syntax is in your code, but the traceback it provides can be a little confusing. Sometimes, the code it points to is perfectly fine.

You can’t handle invalid syntax in Python like other exceptions. Even if you tried to wrap a try and except block around code with invalid syntax, you’d still see the interpreter raise a SyntaxError.

SyntaxError Exception and Traceback

When the interpreter encounters invalid syntax in Python code, it will raise a SyntaxError exception and provide a traceback with some helpful information to help you debug the error. Here’s some code that contains invalid syntax in Python:
ages = {
'pam': 24,
'jim': 24
'michael': 43
print(f'Michael is {ages["michael"]} years old.')

You can see the invalid syntax in the dictionary literal on line 4. The second entry, 'jim', is missing a comma. If you tried to run this code as-is, then you’d get the following traceback:

$ python
File "", line 5
'michael': 43
SyntaxError: invalid syntax

The traceback points directly to the line with the error and indicates that there is an “invalid syntax”. In this case, it specifically points to the missing comma after 'jim': 24. This makes it easier for you to identify and fix the issue.

When you see a SyntaxError traceback, it’s important to carefully examine the code leading up to the line indicated in the traceback. Usually, the issue is caused by a mistake or omission in the code, such as a missing punctuation mark, an incorrect variable name, or incorrect indentation.

Common Syntax Problems

Now that you understand how the SyntaxError exception and traceback work, let’s explore some common examples of invalid syntax in Python and how to resolve them.

Misusing the Assignment Operator (=)

One common mistake in Python is misusing the assignment operator (=). Here’s an example:

spam = 42
egg = 'bacon'
spam = egg # SyntaxError: invalid syntax

In this example, the code tries to assign the value of egg to spam. However, instead of using the == comparison operator to check for equality, it mistakenly uses a single = sign, which is the assignment operator. This results in a SyntaxError because Python expects a valid statement after the assignment operator.

To fix this, you should use the correct comparison operator ==:

spam = 42
egg = 'bacon'
if spam == egg:
print('They are equal')
print('They are not equal')

Misspelling, Missing, or Misusing Python Keywords

Python has a set of keywords that are reserved for its own use and cannot be used as variable names. Here’s an example of misusing a Python keyword:

False = True # SyntaxError: can't assign to keyword

In this code, the keyword False is being used as a variable name, which is not allowed in Python. This results in a SyntaxError because you can’t assign a value to a keyword.

To fix this, you should choose a different variable name that is not a reserved keyword:

my_var = True

Missing Parentheses, Brackets, and Quotes

Missing parentheses, brackets, or quotes can also lead to SyntaxError exceptions in Python. For example:

print("Hello, world!) # SyntaxError: EOL while scanning string literal

In this example, the closing quote for the string is missing, causing a SyntaxError. Python expects all strings to be enclosed in matching quotes.

To resolve this issue, you should add the missing closing quote:

print("Hello, world!")

Mistaking Dictionary Syntax

Python has a specific syntax for defining dictionaries, which involves using curly braces {} and colons :. Here’s an example of a mistake in dictionary syntax:

my_dict = {1: 'one', 2 'two'} # SyntaxError: invalid syntax

In this code, a comma is missing after the key-value pair 2: 'two', resulting in a SyntaxError. Python expects a comma between each key-value pair in a dictionary.

To fix this, you should add the missing comma:

my_dict = {1: 'one', 2: 'two'}

Using the Wrong Indentation

Python uses indentation to delimit blocks of code, such as those inside if statements or loops. Mixing up the indentation level can result in a SyntaxError. Here’s an example:

if True:
print('Hello, world!') # SyntaxError: expected an indented block

In this code, the line print('Hello, world!') is not indented correctly. Python expects an indented block of code after an if statement to define the code that should be executed if the condition is true. Without the correct indentation, Python raises a SyntaxError.

To fix this, you should indent the code within the block:

if True:
print('Hello, world!')

Defining and Calling Functions

When defining and calling functions in Python, there are specific syntax rules that must be followed. Here’s an example of a syntax error when defining a function:

def my_function # SyntaxError: invalid syntax
print('Hello, world!')

In this code, the colon : is missing after my_function, causing a SyntaxError. Python expects a colon after the function name and its parameters to indicate the start of the function block.

To fix this, you should add the missing colon:

def my_function():
print('Hello, world!')

Changing Python Versions

Sometimes, the code you have written may work in one version of Python but not in another version. This can happen if there are syntax changes or differences in certain features between Python versions. For example:

print "Hello, world!" # SyntaxError: invalid syntax (Python 3)

In this code, the missing parentheses () after print is valid in Python 2, but not in Python 3. In Python 3, print is a function and requires parentheses.

To fix this, you should include the parentheses:

print("Hello, world!")


Invalid syntax in Python can be frustrating, but with some understanding of how SyntaxError exceptions and tracebacks work, you can easily identify and fix the issues in your code. Remember to carefully examine the code leading up to the line indicated in the traceback and check for common syntax mistakes like misusing operators, misspelling keywords, missing punctuation, or using incorrect indentation. With practice and attention to detail, you’ll become proficient at writing syntactically correct Python code.

Now you’re ready to tackle the challenge of writing error-free Python programs. Happy coding!