Stationary vs stationery – it’s time to write it right!

Q: Why didn’t the pen and paper move?
A: Because it was stationery!

If you’re scratching your head at this joke, then you may be suffering from a spelling dilemma!  Is it stationary or stationery?  When is it correct to spell the word ending ‘ary’ and when is it correct to use the ‘ery’ ending?  Why does it even matter?  It is important because even though the difference between the two words is just one tiny letter, change this tiny letter and you end up with two words that have completely different meanings.

It’s a very real spelling dilemma that many face when they type their search query into the Google search bar.  Because, let’s admit it, we’ve all experienced that moment when writing the word and we suddenly have a blank as to how to spell it correctly!  What’s more, it seems as if we are not alone!  Indeed, it is so confusing that it comes as no surprise to us to learn that stationary and stationery are two of THE most commonly misspelled words in the English language.  

Why they get mixed up

Stationery and stationary are homophones.  This means they are words that have the same pronunciation, but different meanings, origins, or spelling.  Examples of other homophones include: new and knew; site and sight; write and right; flower and flour.  We could go on….but having illustrated our point, we thought we’d stop here and return to the original stationary stationery issue…and how to solve the spelling problem!

So, whether you may be looking for stationary things or stationery gift set, we thought you may appreciate this simple guide and a couple of easy to remember tips, to help ensure you never muddle your endings again! 

Firstly we need to look at stationary and stationery definitions. 

Stationary meaning

Photocredit: shutterstock

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘stationary’ as follows:

“An adjective meaning standing still; not moving; having a fixed position, not movable; established in one place; not itinerant or migratory; remaining in the same condition or state; not changing.”

As an adjective this word is used to describe a person, place or thing.

The word stationary derives from the Latin word ‘stationarius’, meaning soldiers belonging to a military standing post, job, position.  By the 14th Century, the French used an adapted form of this word ‘stacionarie’ to refer to being without motion and from the 17th Century this had become ‘stationary’, meaning immovable. 

If you are looking for examples of a sentence with stationary in it, here are some that illustrate it what it means well:

  • “The car is not moving because the traffic is stationary.”
  • “I’m late because the train was stuck for thirty minutes.”
  • “The stationary bike at the gym is a great pieces of exercise equipment – I can pedal for hours without moving anywhere.”

Stationery meaning

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘stationery’ thus:

“A noun that means writing paper and writing materials used for writing, including paper, pens, pencils, envelopes and other office materials.”

This word is a noun, which means it is used to identify a person, thing or place.

The origin of this word stems from the Mediaeval period when book-dealers and sellers of books and paper were referred to as a ‘stacioner’.  The term stationery and stationer that we still use today, became common parlance in the Victorian era, which saw a huge surge in people seeking luxury stationery items.

For those looking for how to use stationery in a sentence, here are some examples:

  • “Do we have enough paper stationery for our meeting?”
  • “Our stationery store stocks gel pens, luxury notebooks and cool washi tape
  • “The best stationery collection always includes beautiful paper notebooks.”

Simple tip to get it right – EVERY time

Now we know that the word with an ‘A’ in the ending refers to things that don’t move, or are at a standstill.  Whilst the word with an ‘E’ in the ending refers to all things that can be written on, or in – from notebooks, journals, paper, envelopes etc. – to instruments used to write. 

We wanted to share our easy hack to make sure you never muddle the word endings again and always choose the correct spelling in the future.  It’s never let us down yet!

  1. E is for ENVELOPE. An envelope is something you write on; therefore, an envelope is stationERY.
  1. A is for ANCHORED. An anchor stops things moving / brings something to a halt; therefore, an anchor ensures something is stationARY

Next time you find yourself typing in stationary packs or stationary for uni into the Google search bar, stop and take a few seconds to reflect.  Do you really want Google to show you where you can find unmoving packs or unmoving things for university!  After all, A is for ANCHORED.

By remembering our simple rhyming trick, you will make sure you write it right, every single time! Say it with us: E is for ENVELOPE and A is for ANCHORED.  We promise, if you take this advice, you will never muddle your stationery and stationary again!