When published in 1970, the Pascal language did not have a way to implement the functionality equivalent to the (future) C language operators "break" and "continue". Their convenience having been recognized, extended dialects of Pascal have started to feature similar operators.

From the same documentation for an implementation of Pascal for a Soviet computer as here, dated 1979:

In accordance with the ideas of structural programming and the requirements of programming practice, the following control structures are introduced in the language:

Structural labels

An operator can be labeled with a structural label.

<operator> ::= { <label>: }* { ( <structural label> ) }* <unlabeled operator>

<structural label> ::= <identifier>

The scope of a structural label is the unlabeled operator.

exit operator

Within the scope of a structural label, e. g. "(M)", there may be operators exit M, equivalent to exiting the corresponding unlabeled operator.


<exit operator> ::= exit <structural label>

goto operator


<goto operator> ::= goto ( <label> | <structural label> )

A goto operator using a structural label may appear within the scope of that structural label. Its function is equivalent to the regular goto operator.

Structural labels realize the right of each operator to iterate and to complete.

(Most readers of the documentation would later misquote the last statement as "the inalienable right of each operator to iterate and to complete".)

TL;DR: Structural labels implement mechanisms akin to generalized "break" and "continue" operators on the C language. For example:

(outerloop) for i := 1 to 100 do
(innerloop) for j := 1 to 100 do
     (iter) begin
            exit iter; { same as continue in C }
            exit innerloop; { same as break in C }
            exit outerloop; { no convenient C analog }

Unlike regular numerical labels in Pascal, structural labels did not need to be pre-declared.

Turbo Pascal appeared in the 1980s and seems to have regular C-like break and continue.

The question is: Has any pre-1979 dialect of Pascal featured "structural labels", or any kind of break/continue functionality?

  • 8
    Given that Nikolaus Wirth (together with others like Dijkstra) was one of the main proponents of "structured programming", adding goto and exit to Pascal is of course a complete perversion of his ideas. These "features" were missing on purpose, not because of some "oversight". So the answer is probably "as soon as enough time had passed that there were people who didn't understand what Pascal was about, and had to muck with it, and were far enough removed from the creator so he couldn't berate them".
    – dirkt
    Jul 13, 2017 at 6:58
  • 3
    I perfectly know, and I don't object to break/continue (or other forms of "tamed" gotos). I don't think Wirth would publicly express objection, but he didn't include break/continue in Oberon (1986, last revision 2016 by himself) either. Does that count? :-)
    – dirkt
    Jul 13, 2017 at 8:58
  • 1
    The point is that the question as it stands makes no sense: It's not like this was forgotten, and then suddenly people realized this and said "oh, let's introduce it", and after that every Pascal dialect did it that way. Instead, it's a matter of taste, and whether the people writing the Pascal compilers did have different ideas of how the language should look like. So there's no "first", no "introduction", just people's taste. Wirth was in all likelyhood perfectly aware of this construct when he designed Pascal.
    – dirkt
    Jul 13, 2017 at 9:00
  • 1
    Also see here his reaction to the modest changes UCSD Pascal introduced: "When UCSD Pascal began to spread, their tinkering with Pascal raised a fair amount of ire from some quarters, not least from Wirth himself, a pedantic sort who regarded the language in its original form as perfect, with everything it needed and nothing it didn’t."
    – dirkt
    Jul 13, 2017 at 9:15
  • 1
    @dirkt The language was designed for education, so I don't blame Wirth for not including break and continue or equivalents in the first version (or even for continuing this stubbornness). But as soon as the language is to be used for engineering, using "tamed gotos" is not a matter of taste, it is a matter of good programming practice. Therefore the point of the question is to find out which dialect of Pascal first catered to actual software developers.
    – Leo B.
    Jul 13, 2017 at 15:16

3 Answers 3


It is difficult to say for sure, because there have been a lot of implementations of the Pascal Language (some of them not very widely distributed), each with their own specific additions to the language.

Anyway, my researchs show that it is very unlikely that a feature like the one you describe have been made available before 1979:

  • The Turbo Pascal compiler (which has certainly been one of the most widely ditributed Pascal implementations, and stands, at least for me, as a reference) has, indeed, introduced break/continue statements, but not before the 7.0 version, released in 1992. See the reference manuals available here. In a paragraph named "Flow control procedures", you'll see the break/continue statements are mentioned for the 7.0 version, but not for the 6.0 version.
  • The Pascal MT+, released in 1980, show no such thing in its reference manual (available here).
  • The UCSD Pascal, released in 1978, is simply based on the Wirth definition of Pascal with a few additions, but nothing that looks like a break/continue statement (manual here).

I made some additional researchs on other implementations, but almost all of them are said to be close to the ISO 7185 standard, and I couldn't find the manuals online.

Anyway, the fact that Borland introduced this feature so late (and that nobody answered this question yet) should be convincing enough. I may have missed some very obscure implementations, though (like the one you mention).


From the beginning Pascal has always had a goto statement. So while it didn't have explicit break and continue, they were trivially easy to emulate:

while someCondition do
    (* do some stuff *)
    goto 1; (* Equivalent to break *)
    (* do some more stuff *)
    goto 2;
    (* do even more stuff *)

break and continue are more convenient of course but they are essentially just goto statements and personally I really don't like them. I've never used continue and I only use break in C switch statements.

  • This has received a NAA flag. I'm not certain why; numerical labels are mentioned in the question but this seems to have the desired effect... Are there any caveats that you know of?
    – wizzwizz4
    Jan 5, 2018 at 17:09
  • 1
    @wizzwizz4 Well no. I would certainly argue that the two goto examples in my answer count as analogues of break and continue - they do the same thing. They are obviously not precisely identical with break and continue.
    – JeremyP
    Jan 5, 2018 at 17:14
  • 1
    @wizzwizz4 This answer doesn't even begin to actually answer the question, and offers a personal opinion instead.
    – Leo B.
    Jan 5, 2018 at 17:50
  • 2
    The question explicitly asks for break/continue or structural labels, which OP defined as "not needing to be predeclared". This is not the case of goto labels, so I don't think this answer fits.
    – dim
    Jan 5, 2018 at 20:46
  • 1
    This is actually answering the question why break and continue came so late in the game - They were not explicitly needed because goto provided the functionality, and apparently the creators of the language didn't want to make it too easy to allow non-structured programming.
    – tofro
    Jul 4, 2018 at 12:32

Because break and continue are a form of goto. To see why lets review basic Pascal structures a bit (at least those that would be applicable to break and continue):

while x do y; repeat y until x; for i := s to e do;

Taking one of them:

while x do begin



Using C breaks you could break anywhere in that sequence:

while x do begin



You can substitute "continue" for "break" anywhere in the above.

All Pascal structured statements have the characteristics that:

  1. They have a single point of control entry.
  2. They have a single point of control exit.

Thus with break and continue you change "single point of exit" to (basically) anywhere. Its only limitation is that it must be contained within the loop.

Structured programming is based on the idea that with a few simple single entry/single exit constructs you can write any program. It sometimes is not easy, which is why break and continue exist in C and other languages.

So the above example is trivial, but imagine going through a loop that spans a page or more. It can be a challenge to find what is or is not executed within the loop.

Similarly, compilers can also have difficulty unwinding the different paths through the code, and what the compiler can not easily determine means that it cannot also readily optimize for it.

  • Clearly, you don't understand the notion of single point of control entry or exit. The "break" and "continue" operators can always be modeled with conditional operators and flags, therefore they are perfectly fine for structured programming. The Pascal compiler referred in the question which supports an even more general constructs than "break" and "continue", only takes a few dozen lines to implement them.
    – Leo B.
    Jul 4, 2018 at 6:06
  • if is also a form of goto; specifically, a conditional goto. In any language that has if and else, any statement on the form "if x = y then abc else def endif" can be rewritten on the form "if not (x = y) then goto z; endif; abc; goto end; label z; def; label end;". In fact, I'd be very surprised if that's not awfully close to the machine code generated for most if constructs by almost any compiler for almost any language and target architecture.
    – user
    Jul 4, 2018 at 14:46
  • "The "break" and "continue" operators can always be modeled with conditional operators and flags," then use that. The problem is that break and continue are open ended statements. "if is a form of goto" No, it is self contained (same answer as the last). To get to the point, sure, you could write a complete program using nothing but gotos, and then a compiler could create a tree graph from the entire thing and just figure it out. That's not the issue. These are open ended statements. You can't tell at a glance what the control structure being presented is. (cont) Aug 20, 2018 at 20:20
  • The idea of structured statements is, especially if the program is properly indented, you know just where the entry is, and where the exit is, and where the body of the statement is. Everyone agrees that goto code does not have that property, but break and continue statements also break the internal structure of structured programming basic blocks. The typical argument for those statements is "its too hard" [to do real structured programming]. This is not new, its been going on since Dijkstra. I don't program with them, even when doing C/C++, and it is second nature to me. (cont) Aug 20, 2018 at 20:28
  • Further, I rarely need flags to help that process along. In fact, Pascal's strict rules about expression evaluation, needing to eval an expression that has issues like: if (i < 10) or (a[i] = 0) where the array a[] only has 10 elements, causes more issues, but even that has good workarounds. Is it worth the trouble? I think so. Structured programming reads better and is easier to debug. Putting statements to break it in the language is institutionalizing laziness, IMHO. Aug 20, 2018 at 20:38

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