Wittgenstein introduces a series of different language games, which are imagined languages that are complete, yet much simpler than our own. Language game one consists of A, a builder, shouting orders to B, his assistant. There are four orders in the language: "cube!" "brick!" "slab!" and "column!" After hearing the order, B brings the object A called for. Children can learn this language by means of demonstrative teaching, in which an elder points to each object as he names it.

Does "brick!" in this language have the same meaning as "brick" in our language? We have varied uses for "brick," but we can also shout "brick!" as an order, as they do in the first language game. But in our language, this order is not quite the same as "bring me a brick" and other such sentences, whereas in game one there is no difference. Even if we mean exactly what A means when we shout "brick!", the languages are still different. The different meaning "brick!" has in our language is a result of the system of language surrounding it, not in the mental state of the person speaking.

In language games two to five, Wittgenstein adds numbers, proper names, "this," "there," and the question "how many?" That these elements of language are totally different is clear from the different ways we learn them. Demonstrative teaching can point to the number five (five slabs, five pebbles, five fingers, etc.) just as it can point to a slab. The difference between kinds of words is not in the act of pointing, nor in a mental state, but in how these words are incorporated into the language.

In game nine, A calls "slab! column! brick!" meaning he wants B to fetch those objects in that order. In game ten, he calls "column second! slab first! brick third!" Wittgenstein shows that words and word order can play the same role.

A sentence or proposition is a complete sign. A word is a component of a sentence. Wittgenstein contrasts words with patterns, saying patterns such as pictures or gestures represent the object they denote, whereas words bear no outward resemblance to what they denote. It is not always clear what is a word and what is a pattern.

Suppose A shows B a sample and tells him to fetch a piece of cloth of the same color. There is a wide range of things B could do, from simply walking up to a shelf and grabbing a piece of cloth, to conscientiously placing the sample against each piece of cloth until he finds one whose color is indistinguishable from the sample. There is not one essential or characteristic act of comparing or recognizing, but a whole number of activities that share certain similarities.