The Stellar Seller and the Chilly Cellar

For homophone Friday, I wanted to study <cellar> because it is a word on a spelling inventory that I give to students. Most of the kids start to write <seller> until the hear it in context. The sentence has the meaning of <cellar>, while some students don’t realize it’s even a homophone. Every time this happens, it makes me wonder about its etymology.  It is my intention to help figure this word out further.

Lets start with the most common word <seller>. This is the person that sells things, a salesperson. The word sum is <sell> + <er> -> <seller>. The word is made up of a base plus a suffix. The suffix is what is called an “agent suffix.” When I was at Pete Bower’s Summer Institute this summer I asked about agent suffixes, “like, what does agent really mean?” Well, in SWI fashion, we studied it. An agent is one who acts. The base of <agent> is <ag(e)>. What? I thought. I’ve always envisioned <agent> as the base. The base comes from Latin: agere “to set in motion, drive forward; to do, perform; keep in movement.” Now I can see agent as the doer, the performer, the driver. Going back to <seller>, the <seller> is driving, performing the sale. The base is Old English sellan. This is a free base, which means it can be a word on its own without affixes. The double <l> is there because of the base <sell>. English convention doubles the final <l> in one syllable bases with one vowel right before it, such as <fall>, <cliff>, <pull>.

The word <cellar> has a much fuller etymology and story. A cellar is an underground room typically used for food storage because it was a cooler place of the home (or castle) before refrigeration existed. Cellar can also be used as a verb – to bring something to the cellar. “I’m going to cellar the wine.” The word came to English through Anglo-French originally as celer which derived from Latin cellarium. In Latin a cella was a pantry. One can visit old castles and abby’s and find cellars in the basement. They were chilly, so that gathered food such as vegetables could be stored and kept for a longer period of time. Often there were nooks to keep the food. Today we have refrigerators for this kind of cooler storage, and a cellar is often relegated to mostly wine storage. So <cellar> has an analysis of <cell> + <ar>. It is also related to words such as cellular, cellmate, cellulite, celluloid, and cellulose. The word <cellar> has another meaning which means the lowest rank (such as subpar, or in the bottom as a cellar is the bottom of the house). So a sports team could be in the cellar when they come in last in the season. This is opposite of <stellar>, which I find the construction interestingly similar, although there is no etymological connection between <cellar> and <stellar>. Stellar relates to the stars. So if something is stellar, it is far and high reaching. “The first place sports team was stellar.”



Lastly, I want to touch on the pronunciation and graphemes. These two words a homophones so the pronunciation is the same, at least where I live. Here are the graphemes in these two homophones. The dots are placed between the graphemes.

The grapheme differences between these two words are <s> -<c> and <er> – <ar>. The <s> is the expected choice for the phoneme /s/, but <c> is can be pronounced as /s/ when there is an <e>, <i> or <y> after it, such as cemetery and cent. The ending <er> is the default spelling for /ɚ/ The final <ar> grapheme is less common with this phoneme but we do still have common words with its use, such as sugar, dollar, solar, lunar, cedar, and collar. The other note is that <cellular> is spelled with <ar> just as <cellar> is. The Latin connection is cellularus which is why it was spelled in English with an <ar> instead of an <er>.

So, now when I give my spelling inventory with <cellar> I will be able to further assist students in its understanding beyond that of <seller>. Living in California, cellars are very rare due to our soil, which is another reason that the word <cellar> is a tough one for students to grasp as it is not a commonly used word here.

Authored by Lisa Klipfel, MA, MFT, Educational Therapist

Lisa provides online sessions to help students understand the written English writing system.


Agent | Origin and History of Agent by Online Etymology Dictionary,

Cooke, Gina (2014). LEX: Linguist-Educator Exchange Grapheme Deck, 2nd Edition.

Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Cellar.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 9 Nov. 2011,

“Cellar.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,

Cellar | Origin and History of Agent by Online Etymology Dictionary,

“Sellar.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,

Seller | Origin and History of Agent by Online Etymology Dictionary,

“Stellar.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,

Stellar| Origin and History of Agent by Online Etymology Dictionary,


When -ed Puts a Kink in Your Spelling

The three sounds of -ed

The three sounds of -ed

When adding the suffix -ed to make a past tense, you might assume it always makes an /id/ sound, but in reality there are three sounds of -ed. It can say /id/ as in wanted. It can also make the /t/ sound as in looked. The third sound is /d/ as in called. When we converse we don’t think about the different sounds we make when talking in past tense, but we need to when we convert it to writing.

It may seem arbitrary when we say -ed one way or another but there is actually a very systematic way we say each of these sounds. The /id/ comes out when the end of a word is /t/ or /d/. I call them the Ted words, because they are either t or d.

The /t/ sound comes from the sounds /s/, /k/, /p/, /f/, /sh/, /ch/, /x/, unvoiced /th/. These are sounds that are called “unvoiced”.  These sounds are said in our mouth and not in our throat. With words that end with these sounds, we naturally say the /t/ sound when making something past tense with -ed. I teach my kids this sentence to help them remember the unvoiced sounds. Skip has the fishchex. Remember that these are sounds are not letters. So, if you have a soft c that says /s/, or if you have the unusual gh with the /f/ sound, you would say the /t/ sound – fenced, laughed.

The /d/ sound comes from the voiced sounds, essentially all the other sounds not listed above. Instead of listing off 11 sounds, I usually just teach the first two and by default all the others will be /d/ sound.

The importance of teaching the 3 sounds of -ed, is mainly for spelling. Spelling -ed is not the complicated piece, it is distinguishing it from words that end in: -pt, -ct, -ft, -st, -nd, -rd, -ld. It is only these 7 endings in which older students seem to get confused. You will see words spelled: malld, reflecked. When a student is spelling in this manner, this is the concept that has eluded them.

It’s important for them to understand the concept of “passed tense”, but what throws a wrench in things with words like swept. Although there are only a few past tense exceptions, those spelling patterns can be taught as well. I find that this concept plagues the older student often as words get longer. They like the fact that it is only 7 endings to watch out for. Giving older students hope for spelling is so important. With exposure to the explicit rules and review they can master this concept!

When to add an -es to word rather than just an s

Add -ed when word ends in s, ss, sh, ch, x, z

When to add -es

What is the rule about when to add an “es” to the end of a word rather than just an “s”? It may be simple when we talk, if we are native English speakers, but when writing why does the “es” happen? The reason it happens is purely for sound.

The -es is added to words that end in s, ss, sh, x, ch, or z. All of these letter sounds have a similar /s/ sound when saying it’s sound making just adding an “s” awkward to say. Therefore, orally we added another syllable when added a plural or verb change so that it is easier to say.






This is an important distinction for spelling. When reading, students seem to read the ‘es’ well, but get tripped up as to when to add the ‘es’ rather than just the ‘s’.  I hope these key words will help your student remember when ‘es’ is needed.