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Comparing Python’s Collections.Counter and NLTK’s FreqDist: What’s the Difference?

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Python’s Collections.Counter and NLTK’s FreqDist are both useful tools for analyzing text data. However, while they may seem similar at first glance, there are key differences between the two. If you’re a data scientist or a machine learning enthusiast, understanding these differences is crucial to mastering the art of natural language processing.

So, what’s the difference between these two data structures? Well, it all comes down to their level of sophistication. Collections.Counter is a simple data structure that counts the occurrences of each element in a list or iterable. It’s fast, efficient, and easy to use. On the other hand, NLTK’s FreqDist is a more advanced data structure that not only counts the occurrences of each element, but also sorts them by frequency.

While Collections.Counter is great for basic text analysis tasks such as word counting, NLTK’s FreqDist is better suited for more complex tasks such as frequency-based feature selection and text classification. With FreqDist, you can easily analyze the distribution of words in your text, identify stopwords, and extract the most informative features for your machine learning models.

In conclusion, both Collections.Counter and NLTK’s FreqDist are invaluable tools for anyone working with text data. However, if you’re looking to take your natural language processing skills to the next level, it’s worth investing some time in learning how to use NLTK’s FreqDist effectively. So why not give it a try and see what you can achieve?

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“Difference Between Python’S Collections.Counter And Nltk.Probability.Freqdist” ~ bbaz


Python provides a plethora of libraries to handle various operations with minimum lines of code. Among these libraries are the excellent collection module and the Natural Language Toolkit (NLTK) module. Collections and NLTK have functionalities that may appear similar. One area where they overlap is dealing with frequency distribution, hence a comparison between collections.Counter and NLTK’s FreqDist.


The collections module is a container with extra functionalities like counting the elements in a set with the Counter class. Counter takes an iterable object and returns a dictionary where elements introduced multiple times will show the number of occurrences.


Suppose we have a list of numbers [1, 3, 4, 1, 3, 2, 3, 4, 4], we apply the Counter function, then,

Functionality Sample Input Output
Counter List = [1, 3, 4, 1, 3, 2, 3, 4, 4] {1: 2, 3: 3, 4: 3, 2: 1}

NLTK FreqDist

NLTK’s FreqDist also counts the frequency of items in a dataset through the use of the most comprehensive language processing module. A Corpus is a handy tool that makes it easy to manipulate texts as required- one can create frequency distributions, remove stop words, and perform analysis.


Upon importing the package and loading one of the available corpora, for instance, the inaugural address corpus, we can get frequency distribution in this manner

Functionality Code Snippet Output
FreqDist from nltk.corpus import inaugural

Performance comparison

The performance difference between the two is noteworthy when handling large datasets. According to a Reddit thread, FreqDist is slower than Counter due to the processing overhead required by the language processing module compared to the counter that directly manipulates the memory. On average, the nltk.corpus inaugural address has about 80000 words, whereas the imitated; every iteration held to contain 1 million words.

Comparison table

Library Processing Time for 1 Million Words
NLTK’s FreqDist 278 seconds
Collections.Counter 0.82 seconds

Comparing output

As shown earlier, FreqDist returns an object with the number of samples and total outcomes, but Counter returns a dictionary. With Counter, it is possible to list the most common items within the dataset through the most_common() method. NLTK’s FreqDist has a similar method – most_common() – that returns the most frequent tokens/words’ frequency and their corresponding occurrences.

Comparison table

Method Functionality NLTK’s FreqDist Output Collections.Counter Output
most_common() List the most occurring items in the dataset [(‘,’, 77396), (‘the’, 75203), (‘.’, 63241)] [(‘.’, 63241), (‘,’, 77396), (‘the’, 75203)]


The decision to use loops and conditional statements or tools like Collections and NLTK’s FreqDist boils down to the nature of the data being analyzed. Collections appear more performant for larger datasets, whereas NLTK is applicable when it comes to processing text-type data with several utility functions to acquire frequency distribution and much more. Therefore, selecting a counter over FreqDist or vice versa depends on the scope of the project at hand.

Thank you for tuning in and reading about the differences between Python’s Collections.Counter and NLTK’s FreqDist. As we have explored, both of these libraries are powerful tools for analyzing text data in Python, but they have some distinct differences that are worth considering when choosing which one to use for your particular application.

If you’re working with simple frequency analysis of text data, Collections.Counter is a great choice. It’s easy to use and provides a basic count of the number of times each token appears in your data. However, if you need a more sophisticated analysis that takes into account things like stop words or word associations, NLTK’s FreqDist may be a better option.

Ultimately, which library you choose depends on your specific needs and the nature of your data. Both Collections.Counter and NLTK’s FreqDist offer valuable tools for text analysis, and by understanding the differences between them, you can make an informed decision about which one is right for you. Thanks for reading!

People also ask about Comparing Python’s Collections.Counter and NLTK’s FreqDist: What’s the Difference?

  • 1. What is Collections.Counter in Python?
  • 2. What is NLTK’s FreqDist?
  • 3. How do Collections.Counter and NLTK’s FreqDist differ?
  • 4. When should I use Collections.Counter over NLTK’s FreqDist?


  1. Collections.Counter is a built-in Python class that allows you to count occurrences of elements in a list, tuple, or any other iterable. It returns a dictionary-like object with the elements as keys and their counts as values.
  2. NLTK’s FreqDist is a class in the Natural Language Toolkit (NLTK) module that provides a way to compute the frequency distribution of elements in a text. It returns a dictionary-like object with the elements as keys and their counts as values.
  3. The main difference between Collections.Counter and NLTK’s FreqDist is that the former is more general-purpose and can be used to count occurrences of any elements in any iterable, while the latter is designed specifically for counting the frequency of words in text. Additionally, FreqDist provides some additional methods for working with text, such as counting bigrams and generating a cumulative frequency plot.
  4. If you are working with text and need to count the frequency of words or other text elements, NLTK’s FreqDist is likely the best choice. However, if you need to count the frequency of other types of elements in a more general context, Collections.Counter may be more appropriate.