§23. But how many kinds of sentence are there? Say assertion, question, and command?—There are countless kinds: countless different kinds of use of what we call "symbols", "words", "sentences". And this multiplicity is not something fixed, given once for all; but new types of language, new language-games, as we may say, come into existence, and others become obsolete and get forgotten. (We can get a rough picture of this from the changes in mathematics.)

Here the term "language-game" is meant to bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or of a form of life.

Review the multiplicity of language-games in the following examples, and in others:

Giving orders, and obeying them—

Describing the appearance of an object, or giving its measurements—

Constructing an object from a description (a drawing)—

Reporting an event—

Speculating about an event—

Forming and testing a hypothesis—

Presenting the results of an experiment in tables and diagrams—

Making up a story; and reading it—


Singing catches—

Guessing riddles—

Making a joke; telling it—

Solving a problem in practical arithmetic—

Translating from one language into another—

Asking, thanking, cursing, greeting, praying.

—It is interesting to compare the multiplicity of the tools in language and of the ways they are used, the multiplicity of kinds of word and sentence, with what logicians have said about the structure of language. (Including the author of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.)


  1. Notice that four of the first seven activities are scientific or technical. Wittgenstein was an engineer and architect.
  2. His friend Sraffa had emphasised this variety - supposedly finishing up by asking W. how a shrug fitted with his Picture theory.
  3. Notice that very few of the activities involve the emotional world. There is no sign of love, desire, affection, interest, pain, gloom, amusement... W. has no reason, at this early stage, to have omitted these familiar uses of language. Do they not come into his mind for personal, non-philosophical, reasons?