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See more synonyms for catalyst on Thesaurus.com
  1. Chemistry. a substance that causes or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected.
  2. something that causes activity between two or more persons or forces without itself being affected.
  3. a person or thing that precipitates an event or change: His imprisonment by the government served as the catalyst that helped transform social unrest into revolution.
  4. a person whose talk, enthusiasm, or energy causes others to be more friendly, enthusiastic, or energetic.
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Origin of catalyst

First recorded in 1900–05; cataly(sis) + (-i)st
Related formsself-cat·a·lyst, nounsem·i·cat·a·lyst, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for catalyst

impetus, motivation, incentive, stimulant, incitement, reactionary, spur, goad, incendiary, agitator, impulse, incitation, reactant, synergist, adjuvant, enzyme

Examples from the Web for catalyst

Contemporary Examples of catalyst

Historical Examples of catalyst

  • You'll be pleasantly surprised at how this approach will act as a catalyst.

  • I come back soon and gif you the catalyst for that last reaction.

    Beyond the Vanishing Point

    Raymond King Cummings

  • You do not know where we secure the catalyst your people seek.

    The Colors of Space

    Marion Zimmer Bradley

  • A catalyst failed briefly in its task, then resumed, but the damage had been done.

    The Short Life

    Francis Donovan

  • This simple act may have been the catalyst which gave Burl the solution to the problem.

    The Forgotten Planet

    Murray Leinster

British Dictionary definitions for catalyst


  1. a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself suffering any permanent chemical changeCompare inhibitor (def. 2)
  2. a person or thing that causes a change
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Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for catalyst


"substance which speeds a chemical reaction but itself remains unchanged," 1902, formed in English (on analogy of analyst) from catalysis. Figurative use by 1943.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

catalyst in Medicine


  1. A substance, usually used in small amounts relative to the reactants, that modifies and increases the rate of a reaction without being consumed in the process.
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Related formscat′a•lytic (kăt′l-ĭtĭk) adj.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

catalyst in Science


  1. A substance that starts or speeds up a chemical reaction while undergoing no permanent change itself. The enzymes in saliva, for example, are catalysts in digestion.
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Related formscatalytic adjective (kăt′l-ĭtĭk)
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

catalyst in Culture



In chemistry, a substance that causes a chemical reaction to occur but is not itself involved in the reaction.

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The term catalyst is often used to refer to the prime agent of any change: “She was the catalyst for the reorganization.”
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.