Exploring pandas.Series.cat() method (5 examples)

Updated: February 19, 2024 By: Guest Contributor Post a comment


In this tutorial, we’re going to explore one of the powerful methods provided by the pandas library for handling categorical data, the Series.cat() method. Pandas is an open-source data manipulation and analysis library for Python, offering data structures and operations for manipulating numerical tables and time series. Specifically, Series.cat() is a part of a specialized accessor for dealing with categorical data in a Series. We’ll go through 5 examples ranging from basic usage to more advanced applications, demonstrating the versatility and utility of this method for data science tasks.

What is categorical data?

Categorical data refers to variables that can take on a limited, and usually fixed number of possible values. Examples include gender, social class, blood type, country affiliation, observation period, and so on. Handling categorical data efficiently can lead to significant performance improvements in your analysis and can also help in reducing the memory footprint of your dataset.

Setting Up Your Environment

To follow along with these examples, you will need to have Python and pandas installed. You can install pandas using pip:

pip install pandas

Example 1: Converting to Categorical Type

First, we’ll start with the basics of converting a column in a DataFrame to a categorical type using Series.cat().

import pandas as pd

# Create a simple DataFrame
data = {'Name': ['Alex', 'Brian', 'Charlie'], 'Grade': ['A', 'B', 'A']}
df = pd.DataFrame(data)

# Convert the 'Grade' column to a categorical type
df['Grade'] = df['Grade'].astype('category')



CategoricalDtype(categories=['A', 'B'], ordered=False)

By converting it into a categorical type, we can now tap into the powerful cat accessor to manage this data more effectively.

Example 2: Adding Categories

Next, let’s see how to add additional categories to our categorical data.

# Continuing from the previous DataFrame
df['Grade'].cat.add_categories(['C', 'D'], inplace=True)

Now, ‘C’ and ‘D’ grades are also part of the possible categories, even if they don’t currently exist in the data. This can be particularly useful when you know your data will expand to include more categories in the future.

Example 3: Removing Categories

Similarly, you can remove categories that are not needed.

# Assuming we want to remove the 'D' grade category
df['Grade'].cat.remove_categories('D', inplace=True)

After this operation, ‘D’ is no longer considered a valid category for the ‘Grade’ series.

Example 4: Renaming Categories

Renaming categories is another common task. Maybe you’ve standardized your grade terminologies and need to update your categories.

# Renaming categories
df['Grade'].cat.rename_categories({'A': 'Alpha', 'B': 'Beta', 'C': 'Gamma'}, inplace=True)

This will replace ‘A’ with ‘Alpha’, ‘B’ with ‘Beta’, and ‘C’ with ‘Gamma’ in your dataset.

Example 5: Sorting Categories

Finally, sorting categories is crucial when you want to maintain a specific order. By default, pandas treats categorical data as unordered, but you can specify an order and sort accordingly.

# Let's reorder the grades in descending importance
df['Grade'].cat.reorder_categories(['Gamma', 'Beta', 'Alpha'], ordered=True, inplace=True)


This would sort our DataFrame in the order of Gamma, Beta, and Alpha. Notice here we reordered the categories and then sorted the DataFrame to reflect this ordering better.


The Series.cat() accessor in pandas provides a rich set of methods for working with categorical data. Through these examples, we have seen how to convert data to categorical type, add and remove categories, rename them, and even sort data according to categorical order. Understanding how to effectively use these tools will significantly enhance your data processing workflows, making them more efficient and easier to manage.