The word “language-game” is used here to emphasize the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or of a form of life.

The right understanding of the construction 'the speaking of language', I can guarantee, is 'the speaking by means of language'.

But I intuitively understand this construction as 'the speaking about the language'.

What should I look at in this exact example to not make such a mistake in the future?

  • Does this answer your question? Does a gerund require a preposition after it?
    – Stuart F
    Apr 10 at 13:40
  • I have no clear idea what your English sentence is supposed to mean. "part of an activity" and "part of a form of life" are part of a form of vagueness.
    – TimR
    Apr 10 at 23:20
  • @TimR it doesn't matter what the whole sentence means. It's only important what that exact construction supposed to tell. Apr 11 at 10:18
  • Your understanding is incorrect. For your understanding to be correct, the definite article would have to be omitted: "speaking of language". That phrase without article could be paraphrased as "Talking about language". "the speaking of language" is unidiomatic and there's no way to know what meaning that speaker might be trying to convey.
    – TimR
    Apr 11 at 10:45
  • Where, pray tell, did you get that sentence? No one says the speaking of language in any English-speaking universe of which I am aware.
    – Lambie
    Apr 11 at 19:01

2 Answers 2


It's hard to know what to point to resolve possible ambiguities.

What I will say about this example is that "the speaking of language" is an unusual phrase, that is used here for emphasis: "speaking language" would be much more natural.

I think the article is used here precisely to avoid the ambiguity that you are referring to. If the writer had said "speaking of language" it could also mean "speaking about language", as you suggest, and it would make sense, at least superficially.

When we use this construction "X-ing of Y" in a general sense, we often use the article "the", especially when the phrase is not the subject of the clause:

We don't allow the riding of bikes here.

I recommend the washing of hands before eating.

In these cases "X-ing Y" without the article or "of" would be more natural; but with "of", the article is allowed and possibly preferred.

  • Is there something other than language that can be spoken? Why not simply "speaking"?
    – TimR
    Apr 10 at 23:21
  • @TimR, I said it was an unusual phrase. Presumably because the topic of the sentence is "language", specifically "the language game". We often use redundancy for clarity, emphasis, or rhetorical effect.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 11 at 9:42
  • "the speaking of language" is just not on. Come now.
    – Lambie
    Apr 11 at 19:02

One function of "of" is to mark a noun phrase that would have been a direct object of the verb when the verb has been converted into a gerund, typically with "the". @Colin Fine's answer hints at this:

  • the speaking of language is part of an activity ~ speaking language is part of an activity ~ We are speaking language.

  • We don't allow the riding of bikes here. ~ riding bikes is forbidding ~ We are riding bikes.

  • I recommend the washing of hands before eating. ~ washing (your) hands is recommended ~ We recommend washing (your) hands.

An established phrase that serves as an example is (a/the) running of the bulls.

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