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 Now, the restaurateurs hope, JewFro can be a catalyst for altering the city’s trajectory. Eric Ginsburg, Bon Appétit, 28 Apr. 2022 So, in that respect, 420 certainly was a catalyst for legalization and reform. Christian Orozco, Los Angeles Times, 19 Apr. 2022 At a morning press conference with Walsh and Gov. Ned Lamont, Goodwin President Mark Scheinberg said Goodwin is looking for the marina to be a catalyst for broad-scale development including restaurants, retail, apartments and possibly a hotel. Don Stacom, Hartford Courant, 14 Apr. 2022 Nick Saban’s willingness to adapt and often be a catalyst for change in college football, both on the field and off, has propelled Alabama to six national championships in 13 seasons. oregonlive, 13 Apr. 2022 His murder sparked national outraged and was a catalyst for the emerging civil rights movement. Kate Sullivan, CNN, 29 Mar. 2022 The downtown Hammond redevelopment plan was drafted by urban planner Jeff Speck, and Taillon said the prospect of a future South Shore Line station was a catalyst. Tim Zorn,, 25 Mar. 2022 Florida has its own offensive catalyst in sophomore attacker Danielle Pavinelli, who is tied for third nationally in points per game (7.0) and tied for fourth in goals per game (5.0). Edward Lee,, 25 Feb. 2022 Monday might’ve been her catalyst to finally take action. Raisa Bruner, Time, 7 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

Time Traveler

The first known use of catalyst was in 1902

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Statistics for catalyst

Last Updated

17 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Catalyst.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 May. 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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