I came across this sentence in an exercise: 'Arkwright is considered the father of the modern industrial factory system and his inventions were a catalyst ___ the Industrial Revolution.'

There are 3 choices: to, for and on. I suppose, the last one won't do. Then, how do we choose? What does it depend on? I mean, what is the difference between 'catalyst for' and '...to'?

Thank you.

UPD It would be really cool if someone could explain me general difference between 'catalyst for' and 'catalyst to', i.e. not only in the aforementioned case.

  • 2
    For is the more common preposition used with catalyst. To is correct also in this specific case. Catalyst for (the development of/ to the development of) the Industrial Revolution. books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – user66974
    Sep 24, 2015 at 20:56
  • @Josh61: Looks like an answer to me instead of a comment! (If you convert that to an answer and drop me a note, I'll come back and up-vote that instead of the comment! ;-) )
    – Fabby
    Sep 24, 2015 at 21:00
  • @Josh61 Yes, one speaks of a catalyst for change.
    – WS2
    Sep 24, 2015 at 21:04
  • 2
    Ngram suggests "catalyst for" is most common, next "catalyst to," and last "catalyst of"; these all seem to me to have the same meaning. ("Catalyst on" is not really used at all): books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – herisson
    Sep 24, 2015 at 23:50
  • @Josh61 thank you! So, there are basically no difference between using for/to with 'catalyst' at all? Or is there? Sep 25, 2015 at 12:57

1 Answer 1


I ran Google Books searches for "a catalyst" plus each of six prepositions: for, in, of, on, to, and with over the period 1900–2005. The resulting Ngram chart shows that, until about 1970, authors had very mixed preferences about which preposition to use:

Over the years 1970–2005, however, "a catalyst for" (blue line) has emerged as the predominant wording, with "a catalyst to" (red line) a modest second, "a catalyst in" (yellow line) a solid third, "a catalyst of" (green line) a steady fourth, and "a catalyst on" (teal line) a relative rarity.

A typical example of "a catalyst for" appears in André-Noël Chaker, Good Governance in Sport: A European Survey (2005):

In new democracies, for instance, the presence of a sports law and an interventionist model may be a catalyst for growth and development of the sports movement.

In contrast, the vast majority of Google Books instances of "a catalyst to" use the phrase to introduce a verb (as in "a catalyst to promote the combustion process") rather than a noun (as in "a catalyst to the Industrial Revolution"). Still, such instances do occur, as in John Schofield & A.G. Vince, Medieval Towns: The Archaeology of British Towns in Their European Setting (2003):

Away from the established centres, expansion took two clear forms: the foundation of new towns, and the spread of market rights and fairs which might be a catalyst to the transformation of loosely formed places into towns.

Though I didn't do an exhaustive study of the search results, "a catalyst of" seems somewhat more common than "a catalyst to" in the setting that the OP asks about. From Boon Kheng Cheah, Malaysia: The Making of a Nation (2002):

Not much recognition has been accorded the communist insurgents for their important role as a catalyst of this development [British decolonization].

Even "a catalyst in" is sometimes used in the relevant sense. From Natalie La Balme, "Constraint, Catalyst, or Political Tool," in Decisionmaking in a Glass House (2000):

Some observers feel that public opinion can also act as a catalyst in the decisionmaking process.

Even "a catalyst on" is not unknown in such situations, although instances are few. From Gerritt Voogt, Constraint on Trial: Dirck Volckertsz Coornhert and Religious Freedom (2000):

At the same time, the Renaissance acted as a catalyst on the intellectual development in parts of Europe, especially urbanized regions such as the Italian city-states and the Low Countries.

All of these formulations involve descriptions of things that act as catalysts with regard to a process or development, which is essentially the sense that the OP asks about. In such contexts, using any of the five prepositions discussed here might be defensible. But in writing, at any rate, "a catalyst for" has become by far the most common choice in recent decades.


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