cat·a·lyst | \ˈka-tə-ləst \

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 catalyst for the event was a celebration of my dad's retirement. Holly Brooks, Anchorage Daily News, "When the Brooks family ventured to the Brooks Range for a summer adventure, winter reared its head," 1 July 2018 Another character, broadly played by Aasif Mandvi, simply exists to speculate about Caitlyn Jenner's sexuality and serve as the catalyst for another argument. Randy Cordova, azcentral, "In 'A Kid Like Jake,' Claire Danes and Jim Parsons struggle with son's gender identity," 14 June 2018 Eight months after the shooting, Barrett met privately with the Hamilton family and their lawyer and vowed that the city would use the tragedy as a catalyst for change. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Implementation of mental health training plan for officers runs counter to recommendations," 8 June 2018 Real estate observers have long recognized craft brewers as a catalyst for the rebirth of blighted industrial districts. Jacob Adelman,, "Craft beer pioneer Dock Street taps South Philly's evolving Washington Ave. for new brewery," 4 June 2018 The Arab writers who churn out these melodramas are eager to create more nuanced entertainment, the kinds of shows that can spark public debate and serve as catalysts for social change. Rachel Gandin Mark, The Hollywood Reporter, "Can Netflix Transform the Television Landscape in the Middle East?," 27 June 2018 Officials at the buyout firms point to an increase in corporate deal-making and a greater push by activists to force boards to divest assets as additional catalysts for the recent surge in LBOs. Miriam Gottfried, WSJ, "LBO Volume Surges as KKR, Others Put $1 Trillion Cash Pile to Work," 13 June 2018 Maeve is not making these decisions—yet at the same time, this entire arc serves as her catalyst to true consciousness. Mehera Bonner, Harper's BAZAAR, "Everything You Need to Remember About Westworld's Maeve Millay," 20 Apr. 2018 More on the Pistons: Wright, Fred Van Vleet, Siakam, Jakob Poetl and Miles were catalysts for the Raptors’ franchise-record 59 victories and top seed in the Eastern Conference. Vince Ellis, Detroit Free Press, "Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey 'never put us down,' says Raptors PG," 6 July 2018

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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Statistics for catalyst

Last Updated

8 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for catalyst

The first known use of catalyst was in 1902

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More Definitions for catalyst



Financial Definition of catalyst

What It Is

A catalyst is news or information that changes a pricing trend in a security.

How It Works

Let's assume that Company XYZ announces earnings that far exceed analysts' expectations. This information could serve as a catalyst that kick-starts trading in the stock and changes its perception from a "dog" to a "star" among investors.

Catalysts can drive an investment up or down. A favorable event can push a stock to new heights, but if events turn sour, the exit for these shares can be very narrow and very crowded.

Let's take the example of a classic investment catalyst: adverse press publicity. A fundamentally strong company can get unfairly beaten up by the press and by analysts, driving down its stock price to unjustified lows. In this case, the catalyst would signal a great opportunity for investors to buy, not sell.

Why It Matters

Catalysts can change the perception of a security. They can be almost anything: earnings releases, favorable or unfavorable economic reports, management changes, new products, product recalls, successful (or unsuccessful) marketing campaigns, lawsuits, etc.

Quite often, catalysts are the news or events that finally call attention to fundamentals or other intrinsic factors that have existed for some time in a security. When investors can identify what events or information will be catalysts for a particular security, they essentially are able to predict which way the security will go if and when the information becomes public knowledge.

However, catalysts must be considered within the context of investment strategy. Investors buy when they anticipate the market will rise; they sell when they anticipate the market will fall. Catalysts are only one factor in the equation.

Source: Investing Answers



English Language Learners Definition of catalyst

: 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 \

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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More from Merriam-Webster on catalyst

Spanish Central: Translation of catalyst

Nglish: Translation of catalyst for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of catalyst for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about catalyst

Comments on catalyst

What made you want to look up catalyst? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


one that holds something together

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