See more synonyms for cell on Thesaurus.com
  1. a small room, as in a convent or prison.
  2. any of various small compartments or bounded areas forming part of a whole.
  3. a small group acting as a unit within a larger organization: a local cell of the Communist party.
  4. Biology. a usually microscopic structure containing nuclear and cytoplasmic material enclosed by a semipermeable membrane and, in plants, a cell wall; the basic structural unit of all organisms.
  5. Entomology. one of the areas into which the wing of an insect is divided by the veins.
  6. Botany. locule.
  7. Electricity.
    1. Also called battery, electric cell, electrochemical cell, galvanic cell, voltaic cell.a device that generates electrical energy from chemical energy, usually consisting of two different conducting substances placed in an electrolyte.Compare dry cell.
    2. solar cell.
  8. Also called electrolytic cell. Physical Chemistry. a device for producing electrolysis, consisting essentially of the electrolyte, its container, and the electrodes.
  9. Aeronautics. the gas container of a balloon.
  10. Ecclesiastical. a monastery or nunnery, usually small, dependent on a larger religious house.
  11. Telecommunications.
    1. one of the distinct geographical areas covered by a radio transmitter in a cellular phone system.
    2. cell phone.
verb (used without object)
  1. to live in a cell: The two prisoners had celled together for three years.

Origin of cell

before 1150; 1665–75 for def 4; Middle English celle < Old French celle < Medieval Latin cella monastic cell, Latin: room (see cella); Old English cell < Medieval Latin, as above; see cella
Related formscell-like, adjective


  1. cel.


or cell

  1. a transparent celluloid sheet on which a character, scene, etc., is drawn or painted and which constitutes one frame in the filming of an animated cartoon: may be overlapped for change of background or foreground.

Origin of cel

by shortening of celluloid

cell phone

or cell·phone

  1. a wireless telephone using a system of low-powered radio transmitters, with each transmitter covering a distinct geographical area (cell), and computer equipment to switch a call from one area to another, thus enabling broad-scale portable phone service.
  2. such a wireless telephone that has other functions, as text messaging or Internet access.
  3. mobile phone.
Also called cel·lu·lar phone, cel·lu·lar tel·e·phone.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for cells

Contemporary Examples of cells

Historical Examples of cells

  • There were cells, in which he kept his wives, after he had married them.

    Welsh Fairy Tales

    William Elliott Griffis

  • Ned buzzed by, picked up two of the thugs, and hauled them off to the cells.

    Arm of the Law

    Harry Harrison

  • They lead to the cells of the friars, and are distinct from the entrances to the church.

  • And he had arrived at what he called the hypothesis of the abortion of cells.

    Doctor Pascal

    Emile Zola

  • The cells of our own bodies are to-day living, as it were, in an ocean.

    The Meaning of Evolution

    Samuel Christian Schmucker

British Dictionary definitions for cells


  1. a small simple room, as in a prison, convent, monastery, or asylum; cubicle
  2. any small compartmentthe cells of a honeycomb
  3. biology the basic structural and functional unit of living organisms. It consists of a nucleus, containing the genetic material, surrounded by the cytoplasm in which are mitochondria, lysosomes, ribosomes, and other organelles. All cells are bounded by a cell membrane; plant cells have an outer cell wall in addition
  4. biology any small cavity or area, such as the cavity containing pollen in an anther
  5. a device for converting chemical energy into electrical energy, usually consisting of a container with two electrodes immersed in an electrolyteSee also primary cell, secondary cell, dry cell, wet cell, fuel cell
  6. short for electrolytic cell
  7. a small religious house dependent upon a larger one
  8. a small group of persons operating as a nucleus of a larger political, religious, or other organizationCommunist cell
  9. maths a small unit of volume in a mathematical coordinate system
  10. zoology one of the areas on an insect wing bounded by veins
  11. the geographical area served by an individual transmitter in a cellular radio network
Derived Formscell-like, adjective

Word Origin for cell

C12: from Medieval Latin cella monk's cell, from Latin: room, storeroom; related to Latin cēlāre to hide


  1. a variant spelling of cel



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 cells



"celluloid sheet for an animated cartoon," from celluloid; became current by c.1990 when they became collectible.



early 12c., "small monastery, subordinate monastery" (from Medieval Latin in this sense), later "small room for a monk or a nun in a monastic establishment; a hermit's dwelling" (c.1300), from Latin cella "small room, store room, hut," related to Latin celare "to hide, conceal."

The Latin word represents PIE root *kel- "conceal" (cf. Sanskrit cala "hut, house, hall;" Greek kalia "hut, nest," kalyptein "to cover," koleon "sheath," kelyphos "shell, husk;" Latin clam "secret;" Old Irish cuile "cellar," celim "hide," Middle Irish cul "defense, shelter;" Gothic hulistr "covering," Old English heolstor "lurking-hole, cave, covering," Gothic huljan "cover over," hulundi "hole," hilms "helmet," halja "hell," Old English hol "cave," holu "husk, pod").

Sense of monastic rooms extended to prison rooms (1722). Used in 14c., figuratively, of brain "compartments;" used in biology by 17c. of various cavities (e.g. wood structure, segments of fruit, bee combs), gradually focusing to the modern sense of "basic structure of living organisms" (which OED dates to 1845).

Electric battery sense is from 1828, based on original form. Meaning "small group of people working within a larger organization" is from 1925. Cell body is from 1851; cell division from 1846; cell membrane from 1837 (but cellular membrane is 1732); cell wall from 1842.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

cells in Medicine


  1. The smallest structural unit of an organism that is capable of independent functioning, consisting of one or more nuclei, cytoplasm, and various organelles, all surrounded by a semipermeable cell membrane.
  2. A small enclosed cavity or space.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

cells in Science


  1. The basic unit of living matter in all organisms, consisting of protoplasm enclosed within a cell membrane. All cells except bacterial cells have a distinct nucleus that contains the cell's DNA as well as other structures (called organelles) that include mitochondria, the endoplasmic reticulum, and vacuoles. The main source of energy for all of a cell's biological processes is ATP. See more at eukaryote prokaryote.
  2. Any of various devices, or units within such devices, that are capable of converting some form of energy into electricity. Cells contain two electrodes and an electrolyte. See more at electrolytic cell solar cell voltaic cell.
Related formscellular adjective
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

cells in Culture


A region of the atmosphere in which air tends to circulate without flowing outward.


The basic unit of all living things except viruses. In advanced organisms, cells consist of a nucleus (which contains genetic material), cytoplasm, and organelles, all of which are surrounded by a cell membrane.


Groups of cells with similar structure and function form tissues.

cell phone

A portable telephone that uses wireless cellular technology to send and receive phone signals. This technology works by dividing the Earth into small regions called cells. Within each cell the wireless telephone signal goes over its assigned bandwidth to a cell tower, which relays the signal to a telephone switching network, connecting the user to the desired party.


The proximity to a cell tower is often the key to good reception when using a cell phone.
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.