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

Of course, Eric Hosmer (2008) signed a lucrative free-agent deal with San Diego only after being a transformative force in the organization and a catalyst in two pennant-winning seasons. Vahe Gregorian, kansascity, "Three years after wondering, 'Is this for me?' Hunter Dozier gains traction with Royals," 30 May 2018 Since then, Herrera has started all but one game, settling in as the No. 3 hitter and developing into a catalyst in an offense that is producing just enough to support a consistently strong starting rotation. Scott Lauber,, "Odubel Herrera leads Phillies to win over Pirates," 20 Apr. 2018 In front of a one-sided crowd Sunday, the Pac-12's player of the year was the catalyst in a one-sided victory that sent the Oregon Ducks to their second consecutive NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. Andrew Greif,, "Sabrina Ionescu sparks Oregon Ducks women's one-sided victory against Minnesota in NCAA Tournament," 18 Mar. 2018 Construction of that building alone could be a catalyst for other development in a darker corner of downtown. The Star-telegram Editorial Board, star-telegram, "Let's expand the Fort Worth Convention Center — we're leaving money on the table," 28 Feb. 2018 The movie makes him the unlikely catalyst in Daredevil’s origin story. Scott Meslow, GQ, "Let's Revisit Daredevil, the Terrible Movie that Paved the Way to the Modern Superhero Blockbuster," 14 Feb. 2018 But the truth is that Ryan is the true catalyst for every thing that has happened. Sarah Begley, Time, "The Sad and Inspiring Story Behind the Police Officer at the State of the Union Who Adopted a Heroin Addict's Baby," 31 Jan. 2018 But the truth is that Ryan is the true catalyst for everything that has happened. Katie Van Syckle, The Cut, "Here’s What Happened to the Mom Whose Baby Was Adopted by Trump’s SOTU Guests," 30 Jan. 2018 Callies is also credited with being a catalyst for the MLK March in 1968 and he is listed as the march’s founder on the city’s website. San Antonio Express-News, "San Antonio’s MLK March got an early start but became official city event in 1987.," 14 Jan. 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

9 Apr 2019

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

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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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).


likely to have or produce good results

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