Field Calculator: I just want the third word

Usually once a year I have a need to calc a field to a word position in another field in ArcMap. For example, here is a field from some census data I downloaded:


Why did they add the text “Census Tract” to all of these? Seems to be a space waster right? All I really want is just the tract number. So what I will do is create a new field, then calc the value to the 3rd word, or tract number, from the other field.

First I create a new field named appropriately TRACTNUM. You simply do this using the attribute table window pulldown > Add field…


Next, I enter the field name, set the type to Text, and set the length to 10.


My tract numbers will not be longer than 10 characters. Press the OK button and the field will be added to the end of the attribute table.

Next, I scroll over to the new field name in the attribute table and right click on it to select the field calculator.


The field calculator appears. I am using ArcMap 10.1, so I select the Python parser, then double click on the NAMELSAD10 field that contains the tract numbers I want to extract, then set the type to String and click on the .split() function. Next in the expression area between () I enter a double quote, a space, and another double quote, then add [2] at the very end. The expression should look like the following:


What this will do is take the text from the NAMELSAD10 field, pass it to the split function which uses the space ” ” as the delimiter to separate the words and then extracts the third word for the TRACTNUM field calculation. In Python, position 0 would be the first word, position 1 the second word, and position 2 the third word, which we want. That is why I used [2].

With everything set in the field calculator, click the OK button. Once the calculation is complete, you will see just the tract numbers in the TRACTNUM field.


Now that I documented this, I will not forget how to do this next year! -mike

21 thoughts on “Field Calculator: I just want the third word

    • All very helpful but is there a way to extract a string up to a certain character, in this case a hyhpen(-) and just return everything prior to the hyphen? For example in the following string:
      “Mud Lake-Frame Relay” return back “Mud Lake”


      • Michael,
        Many thanks for your response! I thought I had tried that but to no avail. I’ll keep this for future reference.

  1. Pingback: Using Python with the Field Calculator in ArcGIS | GISC

  2. AHHH!!! Thank you! This helped me parse out an address field to its component parts. I’ll make sure I keep a link to this page and save the script. Yours was the only resource, online… in the WORLD, I could find on this subject that was exactly what I needed. Thanks again,

  3. A helpful post indeed 🙂

    However, I hit a slag.
    I’m dealing with parcels which are labelled like 000/0, 000 being the number of a parcel and 0 being the subnumber of a parcel if it has one. Because of the backslash, the field type is text. Basically, I can’t do any calculation with such fields. I can’t even sort the attributes ascending or descending because text needs a leading zero(s) to sort the numbers correctly. Therefore, I want to separate the parcel numbers and subnumbers. I separated the numbers with no problem using the split function you wrote about. However, it does not split the subnumbers. I guess that’s because most parcels don’t have subnumbers and are just labelled 000 without /0, so when I tell the function to use “/” as the delimiter to separate the numbers, Python gets confused since most parcels don’t have “/”, let alone a subnumber. Anyway, I was wondering if there’s a solution to this problem.
    Thank you in advance!

    • Hi Marko. One thought is that you select the records that have the “/” in them, then run the field calculator on them to get at the subnumbers in the selected set of records. If parcels with subnumbers always have 3 numbers before the slash, you can select by attributes using “FIELD_NAME” LIKE ‘___/%’ , where FIELD_NAME is your field that has the parcel number in it, three underscores represent any three characters, then the slash, then a percent which is just a wildcard for any number of characters after the slash. Give that a try.

      • Thank you!

        Indeed selecting the records that have a backslash is the most logical thing. The field calculator then makes no issues calculating only the selected features 🙂

  4. Very helpful post! I’ve actually referred to it a couple of times to refresh my memory on how to do this. However, I am currently trying to parse a string that does not have a separator. Is there a similar function that will only return the first couple characters in a string?
    For example I have a field that has pipe diameter and pipe material in one string: “10AC” or “12DI”. I want to separate out the diameter into its own field. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Madeline. Great question. In your examples the pipe diameter are the first two characters, so your expression would contain
      !FIELD_NAME![:2], where [:2] extracts out the first two characters in FIELD_NAME. For example, if a record had FIELD_NAME = “10AC”, your new field would be calced to “10”. -mike

      • Thank you for the quick reply!! Especially on an old post 🙂
        That worked perfectly and was way simpler than any of the equations I was trying.

  5. I am attempting to grab text from a string field but what I am attempting to grab is within Parenthesis..

    For example, 123 South Metro A Line (0123)

    I am attempting to only grab the numbers within the parenthesis. Any ideas?

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