Built-in Python 3 Functions for Working with Numbers

Built-in Python 3 Functions for Working with Numbers


Python 3 comes with many built-in functions that you can readily use in any program that you’re working on. Some functions enable you to convert data types, and others are specific to a certain type, like strings.

This tutorial will go through a few of the built-in functions that can be used with numeric data types in Python 3. We’ll go over the following functions:

  • abs() for absolute value
  • divmod() to find a quotient and remainder simultaneously
  • pow() to raise a number to a certain power
  • round() to round a number to a certain decimal point
  • sum() to calculate the sum of the items in an iterable data type

Becoming familiar with these methods can give you more flexibility when programming so that you can make informed decisions when deciding what operators and functions to use. We’ll go through some of these functions with examples throughout this tutorial.


You should have Python 3 installed and a programming environment set up on your computer or server. If you don’t have a programming environment set up, you can refer to the installation and setup guides for a local programming environment or for a programming environment on your server appropriate for your operating system (Ubuntu, CentOS, Debian, etc.)

Absolute Value

The built-in function abs() will return the absolute value of a number that you pass to it. In mathematics, absolute value refers to the distance that a number is on the number line from 0. Absolute value does not take into consideration which direction from zero the number lies, meaning that negative numbers will be represented with positive numbers.

To give some examples, the absolute value of 15 is 15, the absolute value of -74 is 74, and the absolute value of 0 is 0.

Absolute value is an important concept for calculus and real analysis, but it also makes sense when we think about everyday situations like distance travelled. For example, if we are trying to get somewhere that is 58 miles away but we travel 93 miles instead, we overshot our original destination. If we want to calculate now how many miles left to travel to get to the intended destination, we’ll end up with a negative number, but we can’t travel negative miles.

Let’s use abs() to solve this problem:

Info: To follow along with the example code in this tutorial, open a Python interactive shell on your local system by running the python3 command. Then you can copy, paste, or edit the examples by adding them after the >>> prompt.

miles_from_origin = 58	# Miles destination is from origin
miles_travelled = 93	# Miles travelled from origin to destination (too many)

# Calculate how many miles destination is from current location:
miles_to_go = miles_from_origin - miles_travelled	

print(miles_to_go)		# Print how many miles left (a negative number)
print(abs(miles_to_go))	# Use absolute value to account for negative number
-35 35

In the output, we see that if we don’t use the abs() function, in this instance we have a negative number, -35. Though we may be in a position where miles_travelled is less than miles_from_origin, including the abs() function takes the possibility of a negative number into account.

With a negative number, abs() will return a positive number as absolute values are always positive numbers or zero.

Let’s go through using abs() with a positive number and zero:

89.9 0

We’re most likely to use abs() with a variable that may be positive or negative in an instance when we are looking only for a positive number. To account for a negative input or result, we’ll use abs() to modify what is returned to be a positive number.

Finding the Quotient and Remainder in One Function

Because both floor division (which returns a quotient), and modulo division (which returns a remainder), are closely related, it can be useful to use a function that combines both operations at once.

The Python built-in function divmod() combines the two, returning first the quotient that comes from floor division, then the remainder.

Because divmod() will be working with two numbers, we need to pass two numbers to it.


With this function we are basically performing the following:

a // b
a & b

Let’s say we have written a book that is 80,000 words long. With our publisher, we have the option of either 300 or 250 words per page, and we’d like to get a sense of how many pages we would have in each case. With divmod() we can see immediately how many pages we would have, and how many words would be spilled over onto an additional page.

words = 80000		# How many words in our book
per_page_A = 300	# Option A, 300 words per page
per_page_B = 250	# Option B, 25- words per page

print(divmod(words,per_page_A))	# Calculate Option A
print(divmod(words,per_page_B))	# Calculate Option B
(266, 200) (320, 0)

In Option A, we will have 266 pages filled with words and 200 words left over (⅔ of a page) for a total of 267 pages, and in Option B we’ll have an even 320-page book. If we want to be environmentally-conscious, we can choose Option A, but if we want to look more impressive with a bigger-sized book we may choose Option B.

Because the function divmod() can take both integers and floats, let’s also go through an example that uses floats:

a = 985.5
b = 115.25

(8.0, 63.5)

In this example, 8.0 is the floor quotient of 985.5 divided by 115.25, and 63.5 is the remainder.

Keep in mind that you can use the floor division operator // and the modulo operator % to verify what divmod() did:

8.0 63.5

When using the divmod() function in Python. we get both the whole number of times the division occurs and the remainder returned.


In Python, you can use the operator ** to raise a number by an exponent, or you can use the built-in function pow() which takes in two numbers.

To see how the pow() function works, let’s say we are doing research on bacteria and want to see how many bacteria we’ll have at the end of the day if we start with 1. The particular bacteria we’re working with doubles each hour, so we’ll be calculating 2 (doubling) to the power of the total number of hours (24 in our case).

hours = 24
total_bacteria = pow(2,hours)


We passed two integers to the pow() function and determined that by the end of this 24-hour period, we’ll have over 16 million bacteria.

In mathematics, if we want to calculate 3 to the power of 3, it is generally written like this:

The computation that we are completing is 3 x 3 x 3, which is equal to 27.

To calculate 3³ in Python, we would type out pow(3,3).

The function pow() will take both integers and floats, and provides an alternative to using the ** operator when you intend to raise numbers to a certain power.

Rounding Numbers

Being able to quickly and readily round numbers becomes important when working with floats that have a lot of decimal places. The built-in Python function round() takes in two numbers, one to be rounded, and one that specifies the number of decimal places to include.

We’ll use the function to take a float with more than 10 decimal places and use the round() function to reduce decimal places to 4:

i = 17.34989436516001

In the example above, the float 17.34989436516001 is rounded to 17.3499 because we have specified that the number of decimal places should be limited to 4.

Note also that the round() function rounds numbers up, so instead of providing 17.3498 as the output, it has provided 17.3499 because the number following the decimal number 8 is the number 9. Any number that is followed by the number 5 or greater will be rounded up to the next whole number.

Let’s break down the syntax for round():

round(number to round,number of decimal places)

In everyday life, rounding numbers happens often, especially when working with money; we can’t split up a penny evenly among several friends.

Let’s go through an example of a program that can calculate a tip. Here we’ll provide figures, but we could rewrite the program to bring in user-provided numbers instead. In this example, 3 friends went to a restaurant who want to split a bill of $87.93 evenly, along with adding a 20% tip.

bill = 87.93				# Total bill
tip = 0.2					# 20% tip
split = 3					# Number of people splitting the bill

total = bill + (bill * tip)	# Calculate the total bill

each_pay = total / split	# Calculate what each person pays

print(each_pay)				# What each person pays before rounded

print(round(each_pay,2))	# Round the number — we can’t split pennies
35.172000000000004 35.17

In this program, we ask first for output of the number after we calculate the total bill plus tip divided by 3, which evaluates to a number with a lot of decimal places: 35.172000000000004. Since this number doesn’t make sense as a monetary figure, we use the round() function and limit the decimal places to 2, so that we can provide an output that the 3 friends can actually work with: 35.17.

If you would prefer to round to a number with only 0 as a decimal value, you can do so by using 0 as the second parameter in the round() function:


This would evaluate to 346.0.

You can also pass integers into round() without receiving an error, in case you receive user input in the form of an integer rather than a float. When an integer is passed as the first parameter, an integer will be returned.

Calculating a Sum

The sum() function is used for calculating sums of numeric compound data types, including lists, tuples, and dictionaries.

We can pass a list to the sum() function to add all the items in the list together in order from left to right:

some_floats = [1.1, 2.2, 3.3, 4.4, 5.5, 6.6, 7.7, 8.8, 9.9]

This will work similarly with tuples and dictionaries:

print(sum((8,16,64,512)))	# Calculate sum of numbers in tuple
print(sum({-10: 'x', -20: 'y', -30: 'z'}))	# Calculate sum of numbers in dictionary 
600 # Sum of numbers in tuple -60 # Sum of numbers in dictionary

The sum() function can take up to 2 arguments, so you can add an additional number in integer or float form to add to the numbers that make up the argument in the first position:

some_floats = [1.1, 2.2, 3.3, 4.4, 5.5, 6.6, 7.7, 8.8, 9.9]

print(sum(some_floats, 0.5))
print(sum({-10: 'x', -20: 'y', -30: 'z'},60))
50.0 0

When you don’t include a second argument, the sum() function defaults to adding 0 to the iterable compound data type.


This tutorial covered some built-in methods that you can use with numeric data types in the Python programming language.

To learn more about working with numbers, you can read “How To Do Math in Python 3 with Operators”, and to learn more about lists, take a look at “Understanding Lists in Python 3.”

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>>> round(1.5)
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