Pandas AttributeError: Can only use .str accessor with string values

Updated: February 21, 2024 By: Guest Contributor Post a comment

Understanding the Error

The AttributeError: Can only use .str accessor with string values is a common error encountered by Python developers working with pandas DataFrames when attempting to apply string methods using the .str accessor on a column that does not contain strings. Understanding the root cause of this error and knowing how to fix it is crucial for data manipulation and preprocessing tasks. This tutorial will explore the reasons behind this error and provide detailed solutions.

Why the Error Occurs?

This error occurs when a pandas DataFrame column on which .str accessor is being used contains data types other than strings. Pandas .str accessor is designed exclusively for strings, attempting to use it on non-string data types triggers the AttributeError.

Solution 1: Convert Column to String

The most straightforward approach is converting the target column to string type.

  • Step 1: Identify the column causing the error.
  • Step 2: Use the astype(str) method to convert the column to a string.
  • Step 3: Apply the desired .str accessor method.

Code Example:

import pandas as pd
data = {'numbers': [101, 102, 103, None]}
df = pd.DataFrame(data)
df['numbers'] = df['numbers'].astype(str)


Index    Value
0        True
1        True
2        True
3        False

Name: numbers, dtype: bool

Notes: This method ensures compatibility with .str methods but treat ‘None’ as ‘nan’, which might not always be desirable.

Solution 2: Use apply() with Custom Function

When explicit type conversion is not ideal, using apply() with a custom function provides flexibility.

  • Step 1: Define a function that performs the desired string operation.
  • Step 2: Use the apply() method to apply the function across the column.

Code Example:

import pandas as pd
data = {'name': ['Alice', 'Bob', None, 'Dave']}
df = pd.DataFrame(data)
def custom_str_function(value):
    if isinstance(value, str):
        return value.startswith('A')
        return False
df['starts_with_A'] = df['name'].apply(custom_str_function)


   Index    Name    starts_with_A
   0       Alice   True
   1       Bob     False
   2       None    False
   3       Dave    False

Notes: This approach provides flexibility but might be less efficient for large datasets.

Solution 3: Checking DataType Before Applying .str Accessor

Verifying the data type of the column before applying string methods can prevent the error from occurring.

  • Step 1: Check the data type of the column.
  • Step 2: If the column is of type object or string, apply the .str accessor method; otherwise, handle accordingly.

This solution involves preemptive checks and decisions rather than modifying your Python code.

Notes: This preventive approach ensures that only appropriate data is subjected to string methods, avoiding runtime errors.


Encountering the AttributeError: Can only use .str accessor with string values is a signal to reassess the data type of the dataframe column in question. Solutions vary from converting data types to customized functions, offering developers multiple strategies based on the context of their work. Understanding these options furthers efficient and error-free data manipulation.