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What's the difference between 'cellar' and 'basement'?
Can we use the two words interchangeably?
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Cellar is a room under the ground floor, usually for storage, whereas basement is a part of building that is completely or partially below the ground level, it could be an apartment, a kitchen, or rooms.
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LanguageLoverCellar is a room under the ground floor, usually for storage, whereas basement is a part of building that is completely or partially below the ground level, it could be an apartment, a kitchen, or rooms.

But the underground 'complete' floor (which is used only for storage, but has a lot of rooms) of a house is called basement, right?
I guess so.
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KatarinaWhat's the difference between 'cellar' and 'basement'?
Can we use the two words interchangeably?

My experience growing up on the plains: basement is accessed from a vertical door inside the house; cellar is accessed from a horizontal door outside the house. Basements can be finished, cellars are for storage.
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Of the two words, only cellar has this backdrop:

cellar: c.1225, from O.Fr. celer, from L. cellarium "pantry, storeroom," lit. "group of cells," from L. cella (cell)

cell: c.1131, "small room," from L. cella "small room, hut," related to L. celare "to hide, conceal," from PIE base *kel- "conceal" (cf. Skt. cala "hut, house, hall;" Gk. kalia "hut, nest," kalyptein "to cover," koleon "sheath," kelyphos "shell, husk;" L. cella "store room," clam "secret;" O.Ir. cuile "cellar," celim "hide," M.Ir. cul "defense, shelter;" Goth. hulistr "covering," O.E. heolstor "lurking-hole, cave, covering," Goth. huljan "cover over," hulundi "hole," hilms "helmet," halja "hell," O.E. hol "cave," holu "husk, pod"). Earliest sense is for monastic rooms, then prison rooms (1722). Used in biology 17c., but not in modern sense until 1845. Meaning "small group of people working within a larger organization" is from 1925. Cellphone is from 1984.

Still, the two words are sometimes used interchangeably.
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I think most people use "basement" for the floor below ground which acts as the foundation of a house or other such structure. Some people do say "cellar" for this, but it sounds odd to me.
"Basement" does not mean the lowest floor, however. For example, I live in a house which has no basement (or cellar). This is typical in California, although some people have half-basements. These do not extend across the entire house, but are located under only part of it.
I grew up in the Midwest. In our house we had a cellar (storage room for canned goods, etc.) in the basement. The arrangement Philip describes we used to call a cellar as well, or a storm cellar, or a root cellar.

CJ
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I see. Well most houses here in Germany have a complete underground floor. Very few are furnished but mostly people use this part of the house for storage. In German we call it 'Keller' which apparently is a cognate word to the English 'cellar'. However, in English there are two different words , namely 'cellar' and 'basement'. So this really confuses me of which word to use. Germans tend to use the word 'cellar' because it sounds like the German 'Keller'. But I don't know if it sounds odd to a native speaker of English (American or British). And cognate words in different languages don't always have to share the exact same meaning afterall.
I am nearly certain from what you describe that most Americans, on seeing the underground floor, would say that it was a basement. You are right to be cautious about cognates. They can easily lead you astray. I myself would not use the cognate "cellar" if I were in your position with regard to this matter.

(Actually, if you try to use non-cognates as much as possible, your vocabulary in English will expand much faster than if you always rely on cognates.)

CJ
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