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 Throughout history, the Haptranda have been the catalyst for ever catastrophic war. cleveland, "An amazing year ahead for Wonder Woman: Captain Comics," 23 Jan. 2020 Guard Eli Brooks was the catalyst all game long, hitting an array of jumpers to lead Michigan with 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting — his best performance since a 24-point outing against North Carolina on Nov. 28. Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press, "Eli Brooks gets hot, but Michigan unable to guard Iowa's Luka Garza in 90-83 loss," 18 Jan. 2020 Ayton and Booker had great games, but Rubio was the catalyst. Duane Rankin, azcentral, "New father Ricky Rubio has big night in Phoenix Suns' win over New York Knicks," 16 Jan. 2020 For episodes 3 and 4, Mercedeze is on her heels, and this exchange where Sammie called her out was the catalyst. Omar Sanchez,, "The 5 DMs that have put Sammie in the driver's seat on Netflix's The Circle," 7 Jan. 2020 Sometimes, the walls that can’t move are the catalyst for what ends up being the coolest part of the project. Kathy Anderson And Stephanie Vaughan, Houston Chronicle, "Purposeful design enhances the living experience," 14 Dec. 2019 The prison sentence proved to be the catalyst for bringing him to national attention., "“He said the lawsuit would destroy his livelihood, take his house, and his financials,” Rev. Stern told The Daily Beast.," 11 Nov. 2019 As Om Malik noted in GigaOm a decade ago, the music-sharing platform Napster was really the catalyst for widespread broadband adoption in the US. Justin Rohrlich, Quartz, "The 10 ways life would be different without broadband," 29 Oct. 2019 Her cross field diagonal balls are the catalyst for many of City's most dangerous attacks., "Manchester City's Women Are More Than Capable of Fending Off Arsenal in Pursuit of WSL Glory," 13 Oct. 2019

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

12 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Catalyst.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Feb. 2020.

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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


How to pronounce catalyst (audio)

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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