A syntactic category is a set of words and/or phrases in a language which share a significant number of common characteristics. The classification is based on similar structure and sameness of distribution (the structural relationships between these elements and other items in a larger grammatical structure), and not on meaning. In generative grammar, a syntactic category is symbolized by a node label in a constituent structure tree.
There are major and minor syntactic categories:
- All phrasal syntactic categories
|Examples: NP (noun phrase), VP (verb phrase), PP (prepositional phrase)||
- Word-level syntactic categories that serve as heads of phrasal syntactic categories
|Examples: noun, verb||
Categories that do not project to a phrasal level
Examples: yes-no question markers
Contrast syntactic category with the following:
- Grammatical category (person, number, tense, aspect, mood, gender, case, voice...)
- Grammatical class (transitive and intransitive verbs; count and mass nouns…)
- Grammatical relations (subject, direct object, indirect object…)
- Functional categories (agent, patient, instrument…; topic, comment…; definite NP)
Note: The terms grammatical category and grammatical class have also been used as synonyms for ‘part of speech’.