Physical structures of aqueous cellulose nanocrystal (CNC) suspensions in anionic polyelectrolyte carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) and non-ionic poly(ethylene oxide) (PEO) were investigated by studying their cross polarized, polarized optical microscope (POM) images and dynamic light scattering, zeta potential, 1H spin–lattice relaxation nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) data. The presence of anionic CMC and nonionic PEO in CNC suspensions led to two different kind of interactions. Semi-dilute CNC suspensions showed first gel-like behavior then phase separation by adding only semi-dilute un-entangled CMC polymer solutions, whereas the addition of PEO didn’t cause any significant change. POM images showed the phase transitions of CNC suspensions in the presence of CMC solutions from the isotropic state to nematic and chiral nematic phases. Dynamic light scattering, zeta potential and 1H spin–lattice relaxation NMR data presented further arguments to explain polymer-CNC interactions in CMC and PEO solutions. 1H NMR solvent relaxation technique determined the adsorption and depletion interactions between polymers and CNC. The minima in spin–spin specific relaxation rate constant showed the depletion of CNC nanoparticles in CMC. It is believed that the depletion flocculation was the case for the effects of CMC polymer chains in CNC suspensions. PEO was adsorbed on CNC surfaces and caused only weak depletion interactions due to the presence of soft particles.