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Produced by Charles Wells      Revised 2017-02-09
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Logical constructions

Methods of deduction

Translation problem

Mathematical logic

Logical symbols


And, or, not

Conditional assertions

Universally true assertions

Existence statements

Presentation of proofs

Forms of proof


This chapter covers:

Logical Constructions

A logical construction is a way of making a compound assertion whose truth depends only on the truth value of the assertion(s) it is constructed from.

In discussing logical assertions, I use letters such as "$P$" and "$Q$" to stand for an assertion. The assertions may be stated in math English or in the symbolic language.


The assertion “$P$ and $Q$” is a logical construction. It claims that both assertions are true.

For example, Let $P$ be the assertion "$3\gt 1$", $Q$ the assertion "$7\lt 1$" and $R$ the assertion "$3^2=9$". Then “$P$ and $Q$” is false and “$P$ and $R$” is true.

The most important logical constructions are discussed in detail in these sections:

Most of the logical constructions are harder to understand than "and".

Methods of Deduction

If you know that the assertion “$P$ and $Q$” is true, then you know just from the form of the assertion that $P$ is true. For example, the assertion “$7$ is odd and $7$ is prime” is true, so you can deduce that the assertion “$7$ is odd” is true. This is an example of a method of deduction.

Every proof step must deduce an assertion
from previously proved assertions
using a valid method of deduction.

This chapter describes each of the important types of logical construction and gives the methods of deduction appropriate for that type of logical construction.

Methods of deduction are not usually mentioned in proofs. They are used silently.

The chapters Presentation of proofs and Forms of proof describe with examples how proofs are written and some of the problems people new to math have in reading proofs.

Most of the methods of deduction discussed here are more difficult to understand than the one for "and".

Translation problem

The translation problem is the task of extracting the mathematical and logical structure hidden in mathematical prose. You have to learn to read and understand math prose; it does not come automatically.

Besides the links given above, the translation problem is discussed for particular constructions under And, or, not, Universal assertions, Existence statements and Conditional assertions.

Mathematical Logic

Mathematical logic, especially proof theory, is a branch of mathematics that uses mathematical structures to model mathematical statements and proofs. Doing this requires:

Essentially, proof theory turns theorems and proofs into mathematical objects.

Mathematical logic is quite technical but very powerful. It has put mathematical reasoning on a sound scientific basis. It makes logic a part of math. The description of proofs given on this website is informal and does not include all the technicalities necessary to make logic a part of math.

Logical symbols

When logic is discussed in textbooks, symbols are used to name the various connectives. This is essential for the same reason that we use symbols such as "$+$" and "$\times$" in algebra.

There is no standardization for these symbols in logic, and for introductory purposes like this chapter I avoid using them because they introduce an extra burden that for the simple examples we use is not worth the effort of learning.

More generally, in mathematical logic, assertions, connectives, quantifiers and rules of deduction are typically represented using symbols, and the symbolic system developed this way is studied as a mathematical object.


Assertions may be represented by symbols such as $P$ and $Q$. For example, $P$ might stand for $3\gt 2$, a true statement, or $3\lt 2$, a false statement. Assertions containing a variable $x$ might be represented by expressions such as $P(x)$ and $Q(x).$ This is analogous to the way we refer to a function as $f(x)$.

Then compound expressions built up out of symbols representing assertions and logical connectives may be represented in one of the ways below. Note that there is not much standardization of the symbols used to denote logical connectives. That is one reason I mostly don't use the symbols in abstractmath.org.

In my career, in courses I have taken or have taught, I have used every one of these symbols except the horseshoe ($P\supset Q$).

Other logical connectives are used by logicians and computing scientists, but are not covered here. All the forms of the quantifiers can also use typed variables ("$x\in A$" or "$x:A$"), but enough is enough.


The symbols for logical connectives are not often seen in math research papers or books except when the books concern logic.  Some mathema­ticians frequently use these symbols in lectures and others never do.

Mathema­ticians differ sharply on whether to use these symbols in the classroom, taking one of two attitudes:

DON'T USE THEM   Lectures or notes filled with logical symbols require the student to learn a new language (symbolic logic), and many people, including many very good mathema­ticians, are not good at learning foreign languages. Aside from that, there are many symbols in use to denote the same logical connective.

If a teacher has several varieties of engineering students as well as philosophy majors in their class those students will likely expect two or three different symbols for each of the connectives.

USE THEM  It is best to use the symbols, because we don’t then have to translate the mathematical English into the corresponding logical structures. This translation is difficult because in math writing the English words for the connectives have subtly (and occasionally blatantly) different meanings.

The worst trouble is caused by "if...then".

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