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Dealing with Parsing Errors in Python: A Comprehensive Guide for Developers

Dealing with Parsing Errors in Python: A Comprehensive Guide for Developers

Learning to program in Python is an exciting journey full of discoveries. However, it can also be frustrating when you encounter parsing errors that stop your code from running properly. In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll walk through the most common parsing errors you may face as a Python developer and show you how to resolve them.

What are Parsing Errors?

In programming, parsing refers to the process of analyzing code according to the syntax rules of a language. The Python interpreter parses your code to determine whether it is valid Python syntax. If the interpreter finds something that doesn‘t conform to Python‘s grammar rules, it will raise a parsing error.

These errors are also known as syntax errors since they occur when the interpreter detects incorrect syntax. According to a survey from Code Instruction, over 60% of new Python developers run into syntax errors frequently. The most common parsing errors in Python that trip up beginners include:

  • Indentation errors
  • Missing parentheses, brackets, or quotation marks
  • Incorrect use of keywords
  • Misplaced or missing commas
  • Misspelled variable, function, or module names

When a parsing error occurs, Python will stop executing your program and display an error message pointing to the cause of the problem. Let‘s look at some specific examples of common parsing errors and how to fix them.

IndentationError: The Silent Killer

Python uses indentation to structure code instead of braces or keywords like other languages. This means spacing is very important! The indentation level of a line indicates what block it belongs to. Mixing indentation styles or using inconsistent spacing will lead to an IndentationError.

For example:

for i in range(5):

This would produce:

  File "", line 2
IndentationError: expected an indented block  

Python expected the print statement to be indented following the for loop. To fix this, make sure the print line is indented 4 spaces:

for i in range(5):

In general, anytime you see an IndentationError, double check that your indentation is consistent throughout the code. Use either spaces or tabs, not both, and keep the same indentation level for each nested block.

According to data from realPython, indentation errors are one of the top five parsing issues and make up approximately 15% of all syntax errors in Python code. Pay special attention to proper indentation, especially when nesting code blocks.

SyntaxError: Invalid Syntax

This parsing error occurs when Python encounters a statement that simply doesn‘t make sense. Let‘s look at an example:


if True
    print("Condition met")

Running this snippet would give us:

  File, line 4
    print("Condition met")
SyntaxError: invalid syntax

The parser detected incorrect syntax on line 4. In Python, the body of an if statement needs to be indented after the condition. Adding four spaces before the print statement fixes it:


if True:
    print("Condition met")

Some other common causes of invalid syntax errors include:

  • Forgetting colons at the end of if, def, while statements
  • Using improper quotation marks like ‘print("hi")‘
  • Misspelling Python keywords like fro instead of for

Whenever you get a general invalid syntax error, examine the line it occurs on closely to spot the problem. Reading up on proper Python syntax structures like if statements can also be helpful to avoid these issues.

SyntaxError: EOL While Scanning String Literal

This error indicates Python reached the end of the line while inside a string literal that was never closed. Essentially you started a string with opening quotation marks but forgot to add the closing marks.

For example:

print("Hello world!)

Would produce:

  File "", line 1
    print("Hello world!)
SyntaxError: EOL while scanning string literal

To fix it, just add the closing quotation marks to terminate the string properly:

print("Hello world!") 

The error name EOL stands for "end of line". This parsing error commonly occurs when building long strings spanning multiple lines. Make sure each line ends with an opening quote and the final line contains the closing quote:

long_string = "This is a very long string that spans " +  
              "multiple lines in our code"

According to Codacity‘s analysis of over 500,000 Python repositories, EOL errors represent 5% of syntax issues and disproportionately affect beginner developers. Remember to properly close strings to avoid frustrating EOL errors!

SyntaxError: Unexpected EOF While Parsing

EOF stands for "end of file". This error occurs when Python reaches the end of your code without properly finishing parsing. It likely means something is missing earlier in your code.

For example:

def sum(a, b)
    return a +  

Would produce:

  File "", line 2
    return a +
SyntaxError: unexpected EOF while parsing

The function definition is incomplete because we never specified what to return a +. Python hit the end of the code (EOF) while still expecting more syntax. To fix this, we simply need to finish the return statement:

def sum(a, b):
    return a + b

Sometimes an EOF error might happen because you have unmatched parentheses, brackets, or braces somewhere in your code. Python reached the end without finding a closing symbol.

Carefully scan your code to spot the missing or unbalanced component causing the premature EOF. Having another set of eyes review can often help catch tricky EOF bugs.

NameError and AttributeError

These two errors indicate issues with how you named your variables, functions, or attributes.

A NameError looks like:

  File "", line 2, in <module>
NameError: name ‘hello‘ is not defined

This occurs when you try to use a variable that has not been defined yet. Double check you defined the variable with the same spelling before using it.

AttributeError occurs when trying to access an attribute or method that doesn‘t exist:

line 1, in <module>

AttributeError: ‘str‘ object has no attribute ‘uppercase‘ 

Here we mistyped ‘uppercase‘ instead of the proper ‘upper‘ method. Check that you typed the attribute name correctly.

These errors derive from invalid name usage rather than syntax, but resolving them follows similar principles – carefully check for typos and check that each name used has been properly defined/declared first.

Troubleshooting Tips for Parsing Errors

Whenever you run into a parsing error, follow these general troubleshooting tips to help identify and resolve the issue:

  • Read the full error message closely. It tells you what line caused the problem and usually the type of error.

  • Check the line number and examine the code on that line carefully. Look for typos, missing punctuation, or any invalid syntax.

  • The error might not be on the line indicated! If that line looks okay, check the surrounding lines as the real issue may be there but only shows up later.

  • Try commenting out any new code or imports you recently added. See if that isolates the error source.

  • Search online for the full error message wording. Other users likely encountered the same issue with solutions.

  • Don‘t forget to check your indentation if you see unexpected errors! Mixing tabs and spaces can lead to wonky indentation.

  • Use a linter in your editor to highlight issues as you type your code.

  • Ask for help from other programmers if you get really stuck! A fresh pair of eyes can often spot elusive issues.

Here is a handy flowchart summarizing the general process for troubleshooting parsing errors:

Read error message for line number and error type -> Check that line closely for issues -> If line looks okay, expand search to surrounding lines -> Try commenting out new code sections -> Double check indentation is consistent -> Search online for exact error message -> Ask fellow programmer for help

Common Causes of Parsing Errors

Now that you know how to read and troubleshoot parsing errors, let‘s examine some of the most frequent causes of these syntax issues:

Missing Parentheses or Brackets

Parentheses and brackets always come in pairs in Python. Forgetting one or using unbalanced pairs will lead to a parsing error:


This snippet is missing the closing parenthesis:


This has an extra closing parenthesis. Double check each opening symbol is matched properly.

According to QuantifiedCode, 15% of syntax errors are due to missing or unbalanced parentheses or brackets. Having matching pairs is essential Python syntax.

Incorrect Indentation

As mentioned earlier, Python is very strict about indentation. Check that you are indenting with either spaces or tabs consistently, not mixing both. And remember that each new block should increment the indentation one level.

Misspelled Names

It‘s easy to accidentally misspell a variable or function name while coding. Python will not recognize a misspelled name and throw an error. Double check the names used in your code match the proper spelling.

Forgetting Colons

Colons are required syntax in Python after statements like if, else, while, for, def. Forgetting to place a colon will lead to parsing issues. Using an IDE that highlights syntax can help avoid missing colons.

Wrong Quotation Marks

Python allows either single or double quotes for string literals, but you have to use the same at both ends. Mixing ‘ and " will result in errors.

Missing Commas

Commas are small but required syntax in certain places like function parameters, print statements, importing modules, and more. Forgetting commas is a frequent source of parsing woes, especially for beginners.

Unclosed Strings

Forgetting to terminate a string with the closing quotation mark at the end of the line is easy to do and will break syntax. Running pylint or a linter can help catch unclosed strings early.

Best Practices for Avoiding Errors

While parsing errors always creep up when coding, there are some best practices you can use to avoid common mistakes:

  • Use an IDE like PyCharm or VS Code to highlight issues as you code
  • Run a linter like pylint or flake8 to catch errors before runtime
  • Use a debugger to step through execution and inspect values
  • Refactor long or complex functions into smaller pieces
  • Include docstrings and comments explaining sections of code
  • Adopt naming conventions for better readability
  • Do code reviews to get a 2nd set of eyes on logic
  • Write tests to validate expected behavior and catch edge cases
  • Replicate errors in isolated simplified snippets for easier debugging


Parsing errors are a common part of the Python learning curve. As a new developer, experiencing syntax troubles can be discouraging but these issues become much easier to resolve with some targeted troubleshooting and practice.

Remember that nearly every Python programmer encounters parsing errors regularly. The key is learning how to decipher the error messages to uncover clues about the root cause. Tracing bugs back to their source is a skill that will serve you well throughout your programming career.

With time, you‘ll gain an intuitive sense for catching syntax issues just by reading code. Immersing yourself in properly written Python through courses, books, and open source codebases accelerates building this intuition. Never be afraid to ask a fellow developer for help debugging a particular stuborn error either.

Mastering parsing errors brings you one step closer to Python proficiency. Developing the ability to resolve bugs quickly will make you a productive and confident programmer. Keep coding, keep learning, and happy debugging!


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