Stationary vs. Stationery: What’s the Difference?

Writers have for years mixed these two words up with one another. And their confusion is understandable. Both stationary and stationery have identical pronunciations, so it’s impossible to have a sense of their differences through speech. Plus, the words are only one letter apart from each other.

What is the Difference Between Stationary, Stationery?

Today, I hope to answer any questions you may have about stationary vs. stationery. I will be going over their definitions and their functions within the sentence, as well as providing example sentences along the way.

After reading this post, you shouldn’t have any trouble keeping stationary or stationery separated in your writing.

When to Use Stationary

stationery or stationary grammarStationary is used as an adjective and is defined as not moving; not capable of being moved, fixed.

  • I crashed my car into a stationary vehicle.
  • This is a stationary piece of machinery.
  • We waited for hours in a stationary position for the doors to open.

Stationary also has a more figurative meaning than the literal “not moving.” There is a figurative sense of the word that means unchanging in quantity or condition. For example, a sound that is steady, consistent, and unchanging might be described as being a stationary sound. Or if a city’s population has remained steady for a long period of time, you might say that it has a stationary population.

The word stationary comes from the Medieval Latin word stationarius, meaning belonging to a military station. Something (or someone) that was stationary became something that maintained its station.

When to Use Stationery

stationary versus stationery explanationStationery is used as a noun and is defined as writing materials and office supplies; writing paper and envelopes.

  • In order to compose my letter, I will need some stationery.
  • I am heading over to Office Depot to get stationery.

The word stationery comes from the word stationer, an archaic word to refer to a bookseller or publisher.

As you can see, these are two very different words. Stationary is an adjective that describes objects that are not moving, while stationery is an adjective that refers to pens, pencils, paper, envelopes, etc.

Remember the Difference

There are a few help mnemonics to keep track of these words in your writing.

commmonly misspelled wordsThe first is to think of the “ar” in stationary as symbolizing the “ar” in are. That is to say, a stationary place is where you are, sitting still. This is somewhat confusing and not that easy to remember, however.

I prefer to think of stationary as manning a military station. Military and stationary both end in an “ary” and to man a station means to go there and not leave, i.e., do not move from that station.

You can easily remember stationery by the “e” that is the third to last letter. The “e” matches many of the supplies that stationery refers to, such as envelopes, pens, pencils, letters, etc.

Summary

The two words stationery vs. stationary have very different meanings, so it is important that we use them correctly while writing. Misusing them is an easily avoidable mistake.

Stationary functions as an adjective and describes things that don’t move or remain unchanged.

Stationery functions as a noun and refers to office supplies like pens, paper, etc.