cat·​a·​lyst | \ ˈka-tə-ləst How to pronounce catalyst (audio) \

Definition of catalyst

1 : a substance that enables a chemical reaction to proceed at a usually faster rate or under different conditions (as at a lower temperature) than otherwise possible
2 : an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action That waterway became the catalyst of the area's industrialization. He was the catalyst in the native uprising.

Word History of Catalyst

Catalyst is a fairly recent addition to the English language, first appearing at the start of the 20th century with its chemistry meaning. It was formed from the word catalysis, another chemistry term which refers to a modification and especially an increase in the rate of a chemical reaction induced by material unchanged chemically at the end of the reaction. By the 1940s, the figurative sense of catalyst was in use for someone or something that quickly causes change or action.

Examples of catalyst in a Sentence

The bombing attack was the catalyst for war. She was proud to be a catalyst for reform in the government.
Recent Examples on the Web Instead, an influx of rain Monday had been the catalyst. Krista Johnson, The Courier-Journal, 4 Aug. 2022 Imagine if technology could be the catalyst to reducing even a fraction of those events. Kelly Feist, Forbes, 25 July 2022 Jackson was the catalyst of the most recent victory, tallying a team-high 18 points with six rebounds, six steals and six assists. Michelle Gardner, The Arizona Republic, 5 Mar. 2022 The state’s auto industry was the catalyst behind much of the growth, with transportation equipment jumping more than 25% to reach $10.35 billion. William Thornton |, al, 16 Feb. 2022 White supremacy — the urge to create it, the lust to enact it, the bloodthirst to retain it — is the catalyst. Damon Young, Washington Post, 31 Jan. 2022 One of the musical’s more unfortunate misfires is holding out a failed promise to engage with the origins of modern celebrity, of which Diana was the catalyst. Naveen Kumar, Variety, 17 Nov. 2021 Josh Okogie was the catalyst, as usual, contributing two blocks and two steals. Dave Campbell, Chron, 20 Oct. 2021 Koontz was the catalyst while working through one of the bigger challenges of his young career: finding a way to distribute the football evenly to a group of capable receivers and running backs. Dave Melton,, 2 Oct. 2021 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'catalyst.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of catalyst

1902, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for catalyst

see catalysis

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Time Traveler for catalyst

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The first known use of catalyst was in 1902

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Last Updated

9 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Catalyst.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 Aug. 2022.

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More Definitions for catalyst


cat·​a·​lyst | \ ˈkat-ᵊl-əst How to pronounce catalyst (audio) \

Medical Definition of catalyst

: a substance (as an enzyme) that enables a chemical reaction to proceed at a usually faster rate or under different conditions (as at a lower temperature) than otherwise possible


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