Today I learned that the underscore _ is a soft keyword in Python.

Underscore is a soft keyword

I've written about the multiple usages of the underscore _ in Python and in that article I write about the fact that the underscore is idiomatically used to assign a value we don't care about. Something like this:

# Suppose we have a colour like `colour = ("red", (255, 0, 0))`
colour_name, _ = colour

The code above uses unpacking to extract the colour name from the variable colour and we use the second variable name _ to idiomatically say “we expect there to be a second value to unpack, but we don't care about its value”. But this is just a convention. There is nothing special about the underscore _ in this situation; it's just a valid variable name:

_ = 3
_ *= 2
print(_)  # 6

However, in Python's 3.10 match statement, the underscore _ was turned into a soft keyword. This means that when you write a match statement containing a case statement that looks like case _:, Python actually parses the underscore _ as a keyword!

So, if _ can be used as a regular variable name and if _ can be parsed as a keyword, depending on the context, that makes it a soft keyword!

To confirm that _ can be parsed as a keyword inside a case statement, don't take my word for it. You can open Python's grammar and see for yourself!

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