Pseudocode is a compact and informal high-level description of a computer programming algorithm that uses the structural conventions of programming languages, but omits detailed subroutines, variable declarations or language-specific syntax. The programming language is augmented with natural language descriptions of the details, where convenient. Flowcharts can be thought of as a graphical form of pseudocode. As the name suggests, pseudocode does not need to obey the syntax rules of a specific programming language, and there is no standard format, although the programmer may imitate the appearance of a particular programming language. Details not relevant to an algorithm are usually omitted. Blocks of code (for example that contained within a loop) may be described in a single natural language sentence. Pseudocode can thus vary widely in style. Programming textbooks often use pseudocode to describe algorithms so that all programmers can understand them, whatever programming language they use, although the conventions used are usually clearly defined. A programmer will often begin with a pseudocode description of a program or algorithm, and then simply translate this into their chosen programming language.

A pseudocode example:

if credit card number is valid

    execute transaction based on number and order


    show a generic failure message

end if

A Pseudocode Standard

Pseudocode is a kind of structured English for describing algorithms that allows the programmer to focus on the logic of the algorithm without being distracted by the details of programming language syntax. Writing the program is then simply a matter of translating the pseudocode into source code. The vocabulary used is usually that of the problem domain, with the only stipulation being that the logic must be specified in sufficient detail to allow the source code to be derived without breaking the problem down further. There is no universal standard for pseudocode, but it is helpful to follow certain conventions, some of which are described below.

Program flow:

Sequence - a sequence is indicated by writing one action after another, each on a separate line, and each at the same level of indentation. The actions are performed in the order in which they appear, e.g.

READ height of rectangle

READ width of rectangle

COMPUTE area as height times width

If then else - this construct defines a simple two-way choice based on whether or not a condition equates to true or false, e.g.

if hoursWorked > normalMax then

    display overtime message


    display regular time message

end if

While - this construct specifies a loop with a test at the beginning. The loop is only entered if the condition is true, and the specified action (or sequence) is performed for each iteration of the loop. The condition is evaluated before each iteration.

while population < limit

    compute population as population + births - deaths

end while

Repeat until - similar to the while loop, except that the test is performed at the end of the loop, so that the specified sequence will be performed at least once. The loop repeats if the condition is false, and terminates when it becomes true. The general form is:



until condition

Case - this construct allows the program to execute one of a number of alternative sequences, depending on which of a set of mutually exclusive conditions is true. It takes the form:

case expression of

    condition 1 : sequence 1

    condition 2 : sequence 2


    condition n : sequence n


    default sequence

end case

The otherwise clause is optional, and the same sequence may be associated with more than one condition.

case grade of

    A: points = 4

    B: points = 3

    C: points = 2

    D: points = 1

    E: points = 0

end case

For - this construct (often called a counting loop) causes a loop to be repeated a specific number of times. The general form is:

for iteration bounds


end for

Nested constructs

Constructs can be nested inside each other, and this should be made clear by appropriate use of indentation, e.g.

set total to zero


    read temperature

    if temperature > freezing then

        increment total

    end if

until temperature < zero

print total

Invoking sub-procedures

Use the call keyword, e.g.

CALL AvgAge with StudentAges

CALL Swap with CurrentItem and TargetItem

CALL Account.debit with CheckAmount

CALL getBalance RETURNING aBalance