Read this tutorial on formalization, which means turning statements and arguments in ordinary language into their symbolic counterparts; we might just as well call it translation. Notice that ordinary language contains hint words, letting us know when we are likely to need one of the logical connectives.

Complete the exercises for this tutorial and check your answers.

§1. An Example

Consider this particular argument:

[Premise 1] The pollution index is high.
[Premise 2] If the pollution index is high, we should stay indoors.
[Conclusion] We should stay indoors.

This argument is valid, since it is an instance of modus ponens. To use the methods of sentential logic (SL) to show it is indeed valid, we need to translate it from English into the language of sentential logic (SL). This process of translation is called formalization.

First, we need to find sentence letters to translate the different parts of the argument. Let us use the following translation scheme. A translation scheme in sentential logic (SL) is simply a pairing of sentence letters of sentential logic (SL) with statements in natural language. In carrying out formalization you should always write down the translation scheme first.

Translation scheme:

P: The pollution index is high.
Q: We should stay indoors.

Remember that “→” is used to translate “if... then ___.”

So using the above translation scheme we can formalize the argument as follows:

Premise #1: P
Premise #2: (P→Q)
Conclusion: Q

In sentential logic (SL) we can rewrite this argument as a one line sequent, with the premises separated by comma:

P, (P→Q) ⊧ Q

§2. Things to Bear in Mind

There are a few things to bear in mind regarding formalization. First, we usually try to discern as much structure as we need in the original sentences.

For example, consider this argument:

  • Lychees are sweet and lemons are sour. Lychees are sweet.

To show that the argument is valid, we need to formalize the premise as “(L&W)” rather than just “L.” Whereas we can just use “L” to formalize both the premise and the conclusion in the following argument:

  • Lychees are sweet and lemons are sour. So, lychees are sweet and lemons are sour.

Another point to remember is that in formalization we are in effect translating from a natural language into an artificial language. It is often not possible to find a translation that has exactly the same meaning as the original sentence. In such a case we should aim to find a well-formed formula (WFF) that is closest in meaning, or which is logically equivalent.

Take this valid argument for example:

  • Cinta will grow up whatever her parents think. But when Cinta grows up she will argue with her parents. So Cinta will argue with her parents.

This argument can be formalized as a modus ponens argument:

Translation scheme:

C: Cinta will grow up.
A: Cinta will argue with her parents.
C, (C→A) ⊧ A

However, notice the following features about our translation:

  1. We are ignoring the phrase “whatever her parents think.” This is legitimate as the shorter version should be equivalent to the original one.
  2. We are ignoring the word “but” in the second premise. The word adds contrast and emphasis in natural language, but it is irrelevant to the validity of the argument.
  3. We are ignoring the difference in tense in ”Cinta will grow up” in the first premise, and “Cinta grows up” in the second premise. There are no symbols in sentential logic (SL) to indicate tense, but here ignoring tense is acceptable because it does not affect the assessment of validity. But sometimes tense cannot be ignored.

This argument is valid: “If there is a stock market crash tomorrow Paul will be poor. There is a stock market crash tomorrow. So Paul will be poor.” But if we change the conclusion to “Paul is poor” it will no longer be valid, and it would be a mistake to use the same sentence letter to translate both “Paul is poor” and “Paul will be poor.” 

§3. Translating Natural Language Connectives

So far we have said that the connectives can be used to translate their natural language counterparts:

~ It is not the case that
if ... then ___
if and only if
& and

But in fact many other locutions can be translated using these five sentential connectives:

  • Negation

Suppose “P” translates the sentence “Santa exists.” Then “~P” can be used to translate these sentences:

    • Santa does not exist.
    • It is not the case that Santa exists.
    • It is false that Santa exists.

  • Conjunction

(P&Q) can be used to translate:

    • P and Q.
    • P but Q.
    • Although P, Q.
    • P, also Q.
    • P as well as Q.

  • Disjunction

(P ∨ Q)

    • P or Q.
    • Either P or Q.
    • P unless Q.
    • Unless Q, P.

  • Conditional


    • If P then Q.
    • P only if Q.
    • Q if P.
    • Whenever P, Q.
    • Q provided that P.
    • P is sufficient for Q.
    • Q is necessary for P.

  • Biconditional


    • P if and only if Q.
    • P if (if and only if) Q.
    • P when and only when Q.
    • P is equivalent to Q.
    • P is both necessaryand sufficient for Q.

Exercise #1

Source: Joe Lau and Jonathan Chan,
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 License.

Last modified: Wednesday, September 11, 2019, 1:42 PM