Batteries or cells?
batteries[1] cell symbol battery symbol

My favourite definition is...

A battery consists of one or more cells connected together with the purpose of producing a useful electric current.

cell symbol

This is the symbol for a single electrical cell as used in circuit diagrams. We can’t tell what Voltage it produces or what shape and size it might be. We don’t know which chemicals are used inside it.

battery symbol

This is the symbol for several cells connected together. Again we don’t know any more than the fact that it may be able to provide electricity to power a circuit.

d cell

This is a 1.5Volt battery. Inside it there is a single cell. The symbol for this battery would be the same as for the single cell

This is a 1.5Volt battery. Inside it there is a single cell but it contains a lot more of the chemicals which can produce electricity than the smaller one above so it will last a lot longer. The symbol is exactly the same as the single cell above.

cell symbol
cell symbol

This is a 9Volt battery. Inside it there are 6 very small cells connected together in series. Each small cell has a voltage of 1.5 Volts. This type of battery can only produce a small electric current compared to the ones above but the higher Voltage means that it can be used to make special types of circuit work.
The symbol consists of 6 single cells connected together.

9v battery symbol a


9v battery symbol b

This is a 12Volt car battery. It is not shown to the correct size! It is enormous compared to the other batteries and it produces electricity from different chemicals!
Inside it there are 6 cells. Each cell has a voltage of 2Volts. The symbol for this battery would be the same as for the 9V battery above except it would marked 12V.

These statements also help describe what is meant by a cell or a battery.....

A cell is the basic unit of a battery which produces electricity.

Some batteries only contain one cell.

Some batteries contain more than one cell joined together in series.

A cell contains a combination of metal parts called electrodes separated by a special paste or solution called an electrolyte.

A battery is a device consisting of one or more electrochemical cells that convert stored chemical energy into electrical energy.

A battery is the practical version of a cell in which a sealed package is used to safely contain the chemicals.

A battery is something we ask for in a shop!

A cell is something we see as a symbol in an electrical circuit.

My preference is that we call them batteries when we actually use them in circuits or buy them in a shop and can see what type they are, but we should call them cells when we see them as symbols in electrical circuits because as a symbol we can’t tell what type of ‘cell or battery’ they are! A battery is a practical working version of a cell.

Here is a good example showing that a cell isn’t necessarily a battery!


A simple cell can be made from two different metals and some tissue soaked in salty water.

A basic electrical cell can be made from pieces of two different metals separated from each other but touching a salty solution on some paper tissue in between them.

The metals are copper and zinc and the two wires can lead off to a Voltmeter to show that the cell can produce a voltage. If the plates were big enough we could make enough current to power a circuit. We could even join together lots of these ‘cells’ to produce a much bigger Voltage.

But this is simply not a practical power source!

I would call it an experimental cell not a battery.

How did it all start?

Many scientists have worked on the problem of generating electricity from combinations of chemicals.

The Italian ‘Galvani’....