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 What happened under the lights was more of a smack in the face than a dynasty’s catalyst. Michael Casagrande |, al, "How 2018 Alabama rout of LSU lit fuse for historic turnaround," 12 Jan. 2020 With any luck, the political statements made at last night’s Golden Globes will act as a catalyst for change throughout the remainder of award season — and beyond. Eliza Huber,, "Our Favourite Trend From The Golden Globes Was Sustainability," 7 Jan. 2020 The leading catalysts for moving to Arizona last year, according to people who made the switch, were retirement attractiveness, job opportunities and lifestyle changes. Russ Wiles, azcentral, "Arizona gaining as top state for newcomers, study says," 2 Jan. 2020 The other key catalyst was YouTube, launched in 2005 just after the first Hero; without it, GoPro never would have seen such widespread adoption. Joe Lindsey, Popular Mechanics, "The Tiny Action Cam That Made Us All DIYers," 24 Dec. 2019 With no major catalysts expected and back-to-back shortened trading weeks coming up, U.S. market activity is likely to be light as many traders pause to celebrate the holidays. Washington Post, "Stocks rally in best week since September," 20 Dec. 2019 Regulators have so far seen new entrants in financial services as a welcome catalyst for the innovation banks have failed to foster. The Economist, "Big Tech takes aim at the low-profit retail-banking industry," 21 Nov. 2019 Liz, as the object of Fern Mayo’s affections, accidentally ends up being the catalyst for Fern’s transformation into Vylette. Kerensa Cadenas,, "An oral history of the pitch-black '90s comedy Jawbreaker," 13 Dec. 2019 The Eagles have five experienced returnees, each of whom started at some point last season, with small forward Jared Billups, point guard Everett Cooper and forward Curtis Jacobs the leaders and catalysts. Glenn Graham,, "2019-20 Baltimore-area high school boys basketball preseason Top 15 poll," 5 Dec. 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

15 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Catalyst.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 24 January 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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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).


a feeling of well-being or elation

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