Stationary vs. Stationery: Know Which Word to Use

, Staff Writer
Updated May 23, 2022
Stationary (Watermelon) vs Stationery (pen, papers) With Definitions
    Stationary (Watermelon) vs Stationery (pen, papers) With Definitions
    Fruit: moonery / iStock / Getty Images Plus / stationery: Yelyzaveta Matiushenko / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Background: Tolchik / iStock / Getty Images Plus
    Used under Getty Images license

The words stationary and stationery are homophones. That means that these two words sound the same when spoken, but don't mean the same thing or have the same spelling. Discover when to use stationary vs. stationery so you'll be prepared to use the correct term the next time you need to include one (or both!) of these terms in something you are writing.

What Does Stationary Mean?

The word stationary, with an "a" in the final syllable, is used to indicate that something is not moving. It refers to a condition that is staying the same, without changing. This term means the same thing as immobile.

Examples of Stationary in a Sentence

To develop a further understanding of what stationary (with an "a") means and how to use it, review these sample sentences. Note that each of these usages refers to something that stays still, without moving.

  • The weather forecaster says that the cold front is going to stall out and become stationary.
  • I am planning to purchase a stationary bike so I can exercise while watching television.
  • I keep hoping for my stock shares to increase in value, but they have remained stationary for the last month.
  • I was afraid that the oranges might roll off the counter, but they seem to be staying stationary.
  • Is that old car just going to stay stationary in the garage forever, or are you going to repair it?
  • The hurricane moved inland, first slowing and then becoming stationary.

What Does Stationery Mean?

The word stationery, with an "e" in the final syllable, is used to refer to supplies used for writing, typing or word processing. It is most commonly used to describe paper and envelopes used for this purpose. It can also include pens, ink and other basic writing supplies.

Examples of Stationery in a Sentence

To reinforce your knowledge of how to properly use stationery (with an "e"), consider these sample sentences. Notice that each of them refers to items used for writing or printing, or places where such items can be purchased.

  • I am going to the stationery shop to purchase a package of thank you notes.
  • The note she sent me was on the cutest stationery.
  • Nothing conveys elegance better than high-quality stationery.
  • Be sure to print your resume on stationery that conveys professionalism.
  • I'm planning to make my own creative stationery rather than purchase greeting cards from the store.
  • On which aisle of the store will I find stationery supplies?

How to Remember the Difference

Knowing the definitions of stationary vs. stationery is important, but you also need to be able to make a quick decision regarding which term to use when you are writing.

Stationary Memory Tips

Use these mnemonic devices to quickly recall when to use the word stationary.

  • The letter "a" is always the first letter of the alphabet; it is immobile/unmoving. The word for immobile/unmoving has an extra "a" in it (stationary).
  • How would you describe a car that is not moving? It is parked! Rember that the "ar" in parked matches the "ar" at the end of stationary.
  • Think of stationary as stay-tionary because it has an "a" like stay and means to stay in place.

Stationery Memory Tips

There are also a few basic memory strategies to help you know when to use stationery.

  • The word paper ends in "er," so it makes sense that you purchase it at the stationery store.
  • When do you do back to school shopping? At the end of summer! What do you buy? Stationery. Match the "er" in both words for an easy memory tip.

Stationary vs Stationery: Pronunciation

Stationary and stationery have identical pronunciations. Words that rhyme with stationary and stationery include commentary, secretary and visionary.

  • Both stationary and stationery are pronounced as stei-shuh-neh-ree in American English. This pronunciation has four syllables.
  • In the UK and Australia, the emphasis is different and there are just three syllables. There, the word is pronounced as stei-shun-rie.

Stationary vs Stationery: Grammar Tips

Looking at the usage of stationery vs. stationary grammatically can also help you tell which one is correct in that specific context.

  • This word stationary is an adjective, so it is used to describe a noun.
  • The term stationary can be used in adjective phrases (such as very dangerous stationary air mass).
  • The word stationery is a noun. Specifically, it is a concrete noun that refers to inanimate objects.
  • The term stationery can be a countable or uncountable noun, which means that it can be singular or plural as-is.
  • It can also be expressed in the plural form as stationeries, though this is not common usage.

In spoken communication, no one will know if you are using the correct term or not, because there is no difference in how these words sound when said aloud. When writing, though, it is very important to choose the correct term, to avoid making a language usage and/or spelling mistake.


Tackle Other Challenging Terms

Now that you know how to tell the difference between stationery and stationary, strengthen your English language skills by learning how to tell the difference between some other challenging homophone pairs. Start with words like break vs. brake. Then, move on to discover how to correctly use several other words that are commonly confused.