Catalysts generated by the addition of carbon, nitrogen or phosphorus to transition metals have interesting properties and potential applications. The addition of carbon, nitrogen or phosphorus can lead to substantial modification of the catalytic efficacy of the parent metal and some carbides and nitrides are claimed to be comparable to noble metals in their behaviour. Amorphous boron transition metal alloys are also a class of interesting catalyst, although their structures and phase composition are more difficult to define. In this critical review, the preparation of these catalysts is described and brief details of their application given. To date, attention has largely centred upon the application of these materials as alternatives for existing catalysts. However, novel approaches towards their utilisation can be envisaged. For example, the extent to which it is possible to utilise the "activated" carbon and nitrogen species within the host lattices of carbides and nitrides, respectively, as a reactant remains largely unexplored (195 references).