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.

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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 The moment was a catalyst for other competitive leagues to follow suit. Sean Collins, Dallas News, "North Texas esports showed its staying power during a challenging 2020. Can 2021 be even bigger?," 3 Feb. 2021 Woodson believed that celebrating Negro History Week would be a catalyst for racial transformation. Chloe Castleberry, Better Homes & Gardens, "What Is Black History Month? Learn How It Started and How You Can Celebrate This Year," 30 Jan. 2021 Greimel, instead of a catalyst, sees a catastrophe. Bill Laitner, Detroit Free Press, "Pontiac politics warming as mayoral candidates declare they'll run amid downtown debate," 29 Jan. 2021 Pall Mall is a Bridgerton tradition, and the lawn game is an important catalyst for Anthony and Kate's relationship in the book. Julia Thompson, USA TODAY, "Can't wait for 'Bridgerton' Season 2? Look to Julia Quinn books for possible spoilers," 28 Jan. 2021 Investors will watch to see if earnings can continue to top analysts’ expectations, providing a further catalyst to push markets higher. Joanne Chiu, WSJ, "U.S. Stock Futures Waver After Hitting Fresh Records," 26 Jan. 2021 Early foul trouble was a catalyst that led the Chargers to switch to a zone defense in the first half. Robin Fambrough Contributing Writer,, "Boys basketball: Madison Prep hands Carver first loss," 23 Jan. 2021 One offensive catalyst who is still looking for his first point is Kevin Fiala, but the Wild is confident the winger will start to contribute offensively. Sarah Mclellan, Star Tribune, "Victor Rask will center top line as unbeaten Wild plays Anaheim tonight," 18 Jan. 2021 Black creation viewed as content and catalyst has been deeply incompatible with the conventions of tech and its discourse. Sydette Harry, Wired, "Listening to Black Women: The Innovation Tech Can't Figure Out," 11 Jan. 2021

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.

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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 Time Traveler

The first known use of catalyst was in 1902

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Statistics for catalyst

Last Updated

22 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Catalyst.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Mar. 2021.

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More Definitions for catalyst



English Language Learners Definition of catalyst

technical : a substance that causes a chemical reaction to happen more quickly
: a person or event that quickly causes change or action


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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