Pandas: Get the first/last N elements of a Series

Updated: February 17, 2024 By: Guest Contributor Post a comment


Pandas is a powerful toolkit for data manipulation and analysis in Python, offering a wide range of functionalities to deal with structured data. In this tutorial, we’ll explore how to retrieve the first or last N elements from a Panda Series, a one-dimensional labeled array capable of holding any data type. This is particularly useful for data exploration, filtering, or quick checks on large datasets.

Getting Started

Before diving into the examples, ensure you have Pandas installed in your environment. If not, you can install it using pip:

pip install pandas

Once installed, let’s import Pandas and create a simple series to work with:

import pandas as pd

# Create a series
s = pd.Series([10, 20, 30, 40, 50])

This code creates a Series object s with numbers 10 through 50. We’ll use this series for our examples.

Basic Examples

Getting the First N Elements

To retrieve the first N elements of a series, you can use the head() method. By default, it returns the first five elements, but you can specify any number:

# Get the first 3 elements


0    10
1    20
2    30
type: int64

Getting the Last N Elements

To get the last N elements, the tail() method is used in a similar manner. By default, it returns the last five elements:

# Get the last 3 elements


2    30
3    40
4    50
type: int64

Advanced Usage

Custom Indexes

Let’s consider a more complex example with a series that has custom indexes:

import pandas as pd

# Create a series with custom indexes
s = pd.Series([10, 20, 30, 40, 50], index=['a', 'b', 'c', 'd', 'e'])

In these cases, the head() and tail() methods work the same way, showing the ease of use and consistency within the Pandas library, regardless of index complexity.

Combining with Other Methods

Pandas allows for chaining methods, providing a powerful way to combine the retrieval of first/last N elements with other data manipulation tasks. For instance, you could filter a series based on some criteria, then get the first N elements of the filtered series:

# Filter and then get the first 2 elements
filtered_series = s[s > 20]

This can be particularly useful in data analysis and preprocessing stages of a project.

Use Cases

  • Identifying trends: For time-series data, you might want to quickly inspect the most recent entries to spot any noticeable trends or anomalies.
  • Data Cleanup: When dealing with large datasets, viewing the first or last N elements can help you detect inconsistencies or errors that could affect your analysis.
  • Data Presentation: For reports or presentations, showcasing the first or last elements of a dataset can provide a quick overview to your audience without overwhelming them with too much data.


Pandas provides a simple yet powerful set of tools for dealing with structured data. The head() and tail() methods offer quick and efficient ways to access the beginning or end of a Series, facilitating data exploration, cleaning, and presentation. By incorporating these methods into your data processing workflow, you can gain speedy insights into your datasets, regardless of their size.