You can get away without the explicit type check, but only if the surrounding context already assures you that a is a value of the types you're prepared to handle, or if you're sure that types you're not prepared to handle are going to raise errors (., a TypeError if you call len on a value for which it's undefined) that you're prepared to handle. In general, the "pythonic" conventions seem to go this last way. Squeeze it like a duck and let it raise a DuckError if it doesn't know how to quack. You still have to think about what type assumptions you're making, though, and whether the cases you're not prepared to handle properly really are going to error out in the right places. The Numpy arrays are a good example where just blindly relying on len or the boolean typecast may not do precisely what you're expecting.