stationery vs. stationary

Stationery vs. stationary are a lot like colour vs. color: they sound the same and they differ by just one letter. But are stationery and stationary different ways of spelling the same word? Or are they different words altogether?

Take a guess. Because we’re about to break down the difference between stationery vs. stationary.

Stationery vs. stationary are different words

Like baited vs. bated, stationery vs. stationary aren’t just spelled differently. They’re distinct words altogether. Here’s what they mean:

Stationery

Stationery with an e is a noun that describes branded or decorated paper and envelopes. You can also use it more broadly to describe the materials you use to write and type (e.g., pens and ink). Here’s how you would use it in a sentence:

  • “Maya was excited to use her brand new stationery.”
  • “The law firm had to order a new supply of office stationery.”
  • “Lenny owned a stationery store.”

As you can see in the last example, there’s something tricky about stationery – it can act like an adjective when you use it to describe a place where stationery is sold or stored (e.g., a stationery store or cupboard). But even in these cases, stationery describes a thing (not a characteristic or trait) that’s being stored.

So when you’re trying to remember the difference between stationery vs. stationary, remember that stationery refers to writing and typing supplies.

Stationary

Whereas stationery with an e is a noun, stationary with an a is an adjective. Why? Because it’s a word that describes nouns.

Stationary means not moving or not changing, and we use it in sentences like these:

  • “She hates working out on the stationary bike.”
  • “He didn’t stop feeling sick until the roller coaster came to a stop and was stationary for a few minutes.”
  • “The ship looks stationary. It doesn’t seem to be getting any closer.”

So when you’re thinking about the difference between stationery vs. stationary, remember that stationary describes something that isn’t moving or changing.

How to remember the difference between stationery vs. stationary

Because stationery and stationary look almost the same, it can be easy to mix them up. So how can you make sure that you keep them straight? Check out this tip from the Oxford Dictionaries blog: Stationery contains an –er just like the “paper” it describes. So if you’re describing something related to paper or what you usually do with paper (i.e., write or type), use stationery. If you’re talking about something unrelated to paper, stationery isn’t the word you want to use.

Summary

Stationery vs. stationary look like they could be different ways to spell the same word. But they aren’t. They’re different words with very different meanings. Use stationery to describe decorated paper, envelopes, and office supplies. And use stationary to describe something that’s not moving or changing.

Is anyway or anyways the right word for this sentence: “It was raining, but they went for a run _____”? Find the answer in our post on the difference between anyway vs. anyways.




Stationery vs. stationary: What’s the difference?

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