Tetramethylorthosilicate (TMOS) was hydrolyzed and polymerized under strongly acidic conditions in the presence of substoichiometric quantities of water. The polymerization reaction was monitored during 64 h using 29Si NMR and UV-Raman spectroscopy. The nature of the oligomers and the condensation reaction pathways were unraveled using this combination of experimental techniques together with molecular modeling. 29Si NMR and UV-Raman signals which previously were not documented in literature could be assigned. TMOS rapidly was converted into short straight methoxylated silicate chains. Subsequently the growth of oligomers proceeded by condensations between a hydrolyzed middle group of a chain with an end-group of another chain. Larger oligomers were attached to each other via condensations between middle groups generating multiply branched structures. Rings were formed late in the reaction scheme through internal condensations of sizable silicate molecules. Oligomers that were characteristic of the different stages of the polymerization process were proposed. Oligomerization pathways starting from tetramethylorthosilicate and tetraethylorthosilicate (TEOS) are significantly different. While with TMOS rings are formed only late in the oligomerization scheme, with TEOS rings are formed at early stages through cyclo-dimerization. This insight into the different nature of the oligomers obtained from TMOS and TEOS will assist the design of new silica sol–gel materials.