Pandas: How to element-wise subtract 2 Series

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


Pandas is a powerful tool for data manipulation and analysis in Python, offering a wide range of functionalities for handling tabular data, including Series and DataFrames. In this tutorial, we’ll explore how to perform element-wise subtraction between two Series objects, covering various scenarios from the basic to the more advanced. Understanding these operations is crucial for data processing tasks such as calculating differences, generating features for machine learning models, or simply comparing datasets.

Getting Started

Before diving into the operations, make sure you have Pandas installed in your environment:

pip install pandas

Import Pandas in your script to get started:

import pandas as pd

Basic Element-wise Subtraction

To subtract two pandas Series from each other element-wise, you simply use the ‘-‘ operator. Let’s start with a straightforward example:

import pandas as pd

# Creating two Series
s1 = pd.Series([2, 4, 6, 8])
s2 = pd.Series([1, 2, 3, 4])

# Subtracting the series
result = s1 - s2

# Display the result

This operation will return a new Series where each element of s1 is subtracted by the corresponding element of s2, resulting in:

0    1
1    2
2    3
3    4
dtype: int64

Handling Mismatched Indices

In real-world data, it’s common for Series to have mismatched indices. In such cases, Pandas aligns them by index labels before performing operations, which could lead to NaN values if some indices don’t match. Here’s an example:

import pandas as pd

# Creating two Series with different indices
s1 = pd.Series([10, 20, 30, 40], index=['a', 'b', 'c', 'd'])
s2 = pd.Series([1, 2, 3], index=['b', 'c', 'e'])

# Subtracting the series
result = s1 - s2

# Display the result

The result shows NaN for any index that does not exist in both Series:

a    NaN
b     19
c     27
d    NaN
e    NaN
dtype: int64

You can address these NaN values by using the fillna() method, which allows you to replace them with a value of your choice, such as 0:

result.fillna(0, inplace=True)

This manipulation returns:

a     0.0
b    19.0
c    27.0
d     0.0
e     0.0
dtype: int64

Broadcasting Subtraction Over One Series

Pandas also supports broadcasting, allowing you to subtract a single value from a Series across all its elements. Here’s how:

import pandas as pd

# Create a Series
s1 = pd.Series([5, 10, 15, 20])

# Subtract a single value from the Series
result = s1 - 5

# Display the result

This operation subtracts 5 from each element of the Series, resulting in:

0     0
1     5
2    10
3    15
dtype: int64

Advanced Scenarios: Conditional Subtraction and More

For more complex data manipulation, you might need to perform element-wise subtraction under certain conditions. Suppose you want to only subtract values in s2 from s1 if they are greater than a certain threshold. Here’s an approach using boolean indexing:

import pandas as pd

# Creating two Series
s1 = pd.Series([10, 20, 30, 40])
s2 = pd.Series([5, 15, 25, 10])

# Conditional subtraction
result = s1 - s2[s2 > 10]

# Displaying the result

This filters s2 to only include values greater than 10 and then subtracts these filtered values from s1. The result is:

0    10.0
1     5.0
2     5.0
3    40.0
dtype: int64

Note that this method requires careful handling of indices to ensure that the operations are performed correctly.

Using Methods for More Complex Subtraction

Pandas Series also offer the sub() method, which provides more control over the subtraction process, including handling missing indices. For example:

import pandas as pd

s1 = pd.Series([10, 20, 30, 40])
s2 = pd.Series([1, 2, 3, 4, 5], index=[1, 2, 3, 4, 5])
result = s1.sub(s2, fill_value=0)

This uses the fill_value argument to designate a fill-in value for missing indices, making it a useful feature for dealing with mismatched indices effectively.


Subtracting two Series element-wise in Pandas is a straightforward yet powerful operation that can be extended to handle more complex data manipulation tasks. By understanding and applying these basic to advanced examples, you’ll be well-equipped to perform element-wise subtraction efficiently, enhancing your data processing pipelines.