• 2-minute read
  • 27th August 2018

Word Choice: Cell vs. Sell

The letter “C” is a sneaky one. Sometimes, for example, it sounds just like the letter “S.” And this makes it easy to mix up words like “cell” and “sell,” which sound identical but have completely different meanings. How, then, do you avoid errors when using these terms? Let us explain.

Cell (A Bounded Area)

The noun “cell” has a few uses, but all of them describe a bounded area or a unit within a larger whole. One common example of this is referring to a small room as a “cell”, such as in a prison or convent:

The old prison cell was cold and cramped.

In biology, meanwhile, all living things are made up of “cells.” These are considered the basic structural units of life, from the blood cells and brain cells in our own bodies to tiny single-celled organisms.

Blood cells.
Blood cells. Possibly not an actual photograph.

We also use the word “cell” to refer to a group within a larger organization, such as a “terrorist cell.”

Sell (Exchange for Money)

“Sell” is a verb. Its main meaning is “exchange a product or service for money”:

Our business plan is to sell clown car insurance.

This term can also be used more figuratively to mean “persuade someone”:

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The CEO needs to sell her idea to the shareholders.

In this sentence, “sell” doesn’t mean that money is changing hands. It simply implies that the CEO wants to convince the shareholders to accept her plan.

Cell or Sell?

While these words sound the same, they are used in completely different ways. The most important thing is that “cell” is a noun and “sell” is a verb.

Consequently, if you need a noun that describes a small room or compartment, the correct word will be “cell.” But if you need a verb that describes the action of exchanging something for money, the correct word will be “sell.” Remember:

Cell = A bounded area, a small room, or a unit within a larger whole

Sell = Exchange a product or service for money

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