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 France cheered Saturday’s agreement and claimed credit for acting as its catalyst. Kelvin Chan And David Mchugh, USA TODAY, 5 June 2021 For the artist born Sander van Dijck, the album is loaded with meaning -- functioning as a diary of his own thoughts and experiences, and hopefully as an emotional catalyst for listeners, too. Katie Bain, Billboard, 4 June 2021 The move in BlackBerry shares had no obvious catalyst, instead appearing to be propelled by a fresh burst of interest in the stock on internet groups including Reddit’s WallStreetBets. Joe Wallace, WSJ, 3 June 2021 With low latency and ultra-fast data sharing making 5G the catalyst for AIoT, realme is also working to establish an ecosystem of AIoT devices, such as smart speakers, TVs, and headphones. Realme, Forbes, 3 June 2021 Fresh tweets from Tesla CEO Elon Musk also provided a catalyst. Daniel Tenreiro, National Review, 2 June 2021 That's until some catalyst caused Mars to lose most of its atmosphere and become a frozen desert about 3 billion years ago. Ashley Strickland, CNN, 2 June 2021 The show also arrives at a pivotal moment in the continuing fight for racial justice, in which recent viral videos of violence against Black people, including cellphone footage of the murder of George Floyd, have been both a toxin and a catalyst. New York Times, 6 May 2021 Sunlight activates this catalyst material, releasing free radicals that are destructive to all the bugs that might get in your pool. Caroline Delbert, Popular Mechanics, 6 May 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

10 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Catalyst.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 12 Jun. 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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