Glossary of Linguistic Terms

Syntactic Category


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:

Major 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


Minor categories

  • Categories that do not project to a phrasal level

Examples: yes-no question markers

See Also: 
Also Known As: 
Syntactic class
Additional Information: 


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’.

Glossary Hierarchy