How to Subset Data Frame by Multiple Conditions in R

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Subsetting a data frame in R is an essential skill for anyone working with data. Often, datasets come with an array of variables and observations, but you may need only a portion of that data for your analysis. In R, subsetting can be performed in various ways and the complexity can range from simple operations, like filtering rows based on a single condition, to more intricate operations involving multiple conditions and variables.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through the steps to subset a data frame in R based on multiple conditions, elaborating on different methods and best practices.

Basic Subsetting Techniques

Before diving into multiple conditions, let’s revisit basic subsetting techniques. You can subset a data frame in R using square brackets [].

# Create a sample data frame
df <- data.frame(A = c(1, 2, 3, 4), B = c(5, 6, 7, 8), C = c(9, 10, 11, 12))

# Subset rows where column A is greater than 2
df_sub <- df[df$A > 2, ]

Subsetting with Multiple Conditions

You can combine multiple conditions using logical operators such as & (and), | (or), and ! (not).

Using Logical AND &

To satisfy multiple conditions, you can use &.

# Rows where A > 2 and B < 8
df_sub <- df[df$A > 2 & df$B < 8, ]

Using Logical OR |

If any of the conditions need to be satisfied, use |.

# Rows where A > 2 or B < 8
df_sub <- df[df$A > 2 | df$B < 8, ]

Using Logical NOT !

To negate a condition, use !.

# Rows where A is NOT equal to 2
df_sub <- df[!(df$A == 2), ]

Using the subset( ) Function

R offers a built-in function named subset() which can make your subsetting operation more readable.

df_sub <- subset(df, A > 2 & B < 8)


  1. Readable and easy to understand.
  2. No need for additional packages.


  1. Slightly slower for large datasets.

Employing the dplyr Package

The dplyr package provides a set of “verbs” that make data manipulation tasks more intuitive.


df_sub <- df %>% 
  filter(A > 2, B < 8)


  1. Highly readable and intuitive.
  2. Efficient for large data frames.


  1. Requires learning the dplyr syntax.

Advanced Techniques: data.table Package

For really large datasets, the data.table package offers enhanced performance.


# Convert data frame to data table
dt <-

# Subset
dt_sub <- dt[A > 2 & B < 8]


  1. Extremely fast for large datasets.
  2. Rich set of features for advanced users.


  1. Learning curve could be steep.

Common Pitfalls

  1. Incorrect Logical Operators: Using && instead of & and || instead of | can lead to issues.
  2. Missing Values: Make sure to account for NA when subsetting.

Best Practices

  1. Be Explicit: Always specify the conditions clearly.
  2. Check Results: After subsetting, verify that the resulting data meets your criteria.
  3. Optimization: For large data sets, consider using optimized packages like data.table.


Subsetting data frames in R based on multiple conditions is a fundamental task in data manipulation. Whether you’re using basic R functionality or specialized packages, understanding how to properly subset data frames will significantly improve your data analysis workflow.

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