Blog / Learning & Videos June 9, 2016


Pseudocode is a kind of structured english for describing algorithms. It allows the designer to focus on the logic of the algorithm without being distracted by details of language syntax. At the same time, the pseudocode needs to be complete. It describe the entire logic of the algorithm so that implementation becomes a rote mechanical task of translating line by line into source code.

In general the vocabulary used in the pseudocode should be the vocabulary of the problem domain, not of the implementation domain. The pseudocode is a narrative for someone who knows the requirements (problem domain) and is trying to learn how the solution is organized. E.g.,

Extract the next word from the line (good)
set word to get next token (poor)

Append the file extension to the name (good)
name = name + extension (poor)

FOR all the characters in the name (good)
FOR character = first to last (ok)

Note that the logic must be decomposed to the level of a single loop or decision. Thus “Search the list and find the customer with highest balance” is too vague because it takes a loop AND a nested decision to implement it. It’s okay to use “Find” or “Lookup” if there’s a predefined function for it such as String.indexOf().

Each textbook and each individual designer may have their own personal style of pseudocode. Pseudocode is not a rigorous notation, since it is read by other people, not by the computer. There is no universal “standard” for the industry, but for instructional purposes it is helpful if we all follow a similar style. The format below is recommended for expressing your solutions in our class.

The “structured” part of pseudocode is a notation for representing six specific structured programming constructs: SEQUENCE, WHILE, IF-THEN-ELSE, REPEAT-UNTIL, FOR, and CASE. Each of these constructs can be embedded inside any other construct. These constructs represent the logic, or flow of control in an algorithm.

It has been proven that three basic constructs for flow of control are sufficient to implement any “proper” algorithm.

SEQUENCE is a linear progression where one task is performed sequentially after another.
WHILE is a loop (repetition) with a simple conditional test at its beginning.
IF-THEN-ELSE is a decision (selection) in which a choice is made between two alternative courses of action.

Although these constructs are sufficient, it is often useful to include three more constructs:

REPEAT-UNTIL is a loop with a simple conditional test at the bottom.
CASE is a multiway branch (decision) based on the value of an expression. CASE is a generalization of IF-THEN-ELSE.
FOR is a “counting” loop.


Sequential control is indicated by writing one action after another, each action on a line by itself, and all actions aligned with the same indent. The actions are performed in the sequence (top to bottom) that they are written.

Example (non-computer)

Brush teeth
Wash face
Comb hair
Smile in mirror


READ height of rectangle
READ width of rectangle
COMPUTE area as height times width

Common Action Keywords

Several keywords are often used to indicate common input, output, and processing operations.

Initialize: SET, INIT


Binary choice on a given Boolean condition is indicated by the use of four keywords: IF, THEN, ELSE, and ENDIF. The general form is:

IF condition THEN

sequence 1


sequence 2


The ELSE keyword and “sequence 2” are optional. If the condition is true, sequence 1 is performed, otherwise sequence 2 is performed.


IF HoursWorked > NormalMax THEN

Display overtime message


Display regular time message



The WHILE construct is used to specify a loop with a test at the top. The beginning and ending of the loop are indicated by two keywords WHILE and ENDWHILE. The general form is:

WHILE condition



The loop is entered only if the condition is true. The “sequence” is performed for each iteration. At the conclusion of each iteration, the condition is evaluated and the loop continues as long as the condition is true.


WHILE Population < Limit

Compute Population as Population + Births – Deaths



WHILE employee.type NOT EQUAL manager AND personCount < numEmployees INCREMENT personCount CALL employeeList.getPerson with personCount RETURNING employee ENDWHILE CASE A CASE construct indicates a multiway branch based on conditions that are mutually exclusive. Four keywords, CASE, OF, OTHERS, and ENDCASE, and conditions are used to indicate the various alternatives. The general form is: CASE expression OF condition 1 : sequence 1 condition 2 : sequence 2 … condition n : sequence n OTHERS: default sequence ENDCASE The OTHERS clause with its default sequence is optional. Conditions are normally numbers or characters indicating the value of “expression”, but they can be English statements or some other notation that specifies the condition under which the given sequence is to be performed. A certain sequence may be associated with more than one condition. Example CASE Title OF Mr : Print “Mister” Mrs : Print “Missus” Miss : Print “Miss” Ms : Print “Mizz” Dr : Print “Doctor” ENDCASE Example CASE grade OF A : points = 4 B : points = 3 C : points = 2 D : points = 1 F : points = 0 ENDCASE REPEAT-UNTIL This loop is similar to the WHILE loop except that the test is performed at the bottom of the loop instead of at the top. Two keywords, REPEAT and UNTIL are used. The general form is: REPEAT sequence UNTIL condition The “sequence” in this type of loop is always performed at least once, because the test is peformed after the sequence is executed. At the conclusion of each iteration, the condition is evaluated, and the loop repeats if the condition is false. The loop terminates when the condition becomes true. FOR This loop is a specialized construct for iterating a specific number of times, often called a “counting” loop. Two keywords, FOR and ENDFOR are used. The general form is: FOR iteration bounds sequence ENDFOR In cases where the loop constraints can be obviously inferred it is best to describe the loop using problem domain vocabulary. Example FOR each month of the year (good) FOR month = 1 to 12 (ok) FOR each employee in the list (good) FOR empno = 1 to listsize (ok) NESTED CONSTRUCTS The constructs can be embedded within each other, and this is made clear by use of indenting. Nested constructs should be clearly indented from their surrounding constructs. Example SET total to zero REPEAT READ Temperature IF Temperature > Freezing THEN

UNTIL Temperature < zero Print total In the above example, the IF construct is nested within the REPEAT construct, and therefore is indented. INVOKING SUBPROCEDURES Use the CALL keyword. For example: CALL AvgAge with StudentAges CALL Swap with CurrentItem and TargetItem CALL Account.debit with CheckAmount CALL getBalance RETURNING aBalance CALL SquareRoot with orbitHeight RETURNING nominalOrbit EXCEPTION HANDLING BEGIN statements EXCEPTION WHEN exception type statements to handle exception WHEN another exception type statements to handle exception END Sample Pseudocode “Adequate” FOR X = 1 to 10 FOR Y = 1 to 10 IF gameBoard[X][Y] = 0 Do nothing ELSE CALL theCall(X, Y) (recursive method) increment counter END IF END FOR END FOR “Better” Set moveCount to 1 FOR each row on the board FOR each column on the board IF gameBoard position (row, column) is occupied THEN CALL findAdjacentTiles with row, column INCREMENT moveCount END IF END FOR END FOR (Note: the logic is restructured to omit the “do nothing” clause) “Not So Good” FOR all the number at the back of the array SET Temp equal the addition of each number IF > 9 THEN
get the remainder of the number divided by 10 to that index
and carry the “1”
Decrement one
Do it again for numbers before the decimal

“Good Enough (not perfect)”

SET Carry to 0
FOR each DigitPosition in Number from least significant to most significant

COMPUTE Total as sum of FirstNum[DigitPosition] and SecondNum[DigitPosition] and Carry

IF Total > 10 THEN
SET Carry to 1
SUBTRACT 10 from Total
SET Carry to 0

STORE Total in Result[DigitPosition]


IF Carry = 1 THEN
RAISE Overflow exception

“Pretty Good” This example shows how pseudocode is written as comments in the source file. Note that the double slashes are indented.

public boolean moveRobot (Robot aRobot)
//IF robot has no obstacle in front THEN
// Call Move robot
// Add the move command to the command history
// RETURN true
// RETURN false without moving the robot

Example Java Implementation

source code statements are interleaved with pseudocode.
comments that correspond exactly to source code are removed during coding.

public boolean moveRobot (Robot aRobot)
//IF robot has no obstacle in front THEN
if (aRobot.isFrontClear())
// Call Move robot
// Add the move command to the command history
return true;
else // don’t move the robot
return false;

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