Stationary vs. Stationery (Grammar Rules)

Learn the differences of stationary and stationery on with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.
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Stationary and stationery are pronounced the same, but they have different spellings and meanings. One meaning is rather static, while the other has to do with paper. To be honest, many writers are familiar with using both terms.

(Grammar rules for writers.)

So let's look at the differences between stationary and stationery to make sure we're using them correctly.

Stationery vs. Stationary (Grammar Rules)

Stationary vs. Stationery

Stationary is an adjective that refers to someone or something that is fixed in place or that's in a fixed condition. For instance, there are pieces of gym equipment that are stationary, like a treadmill or stationary bike. A person can move and simulate running or riding a bike, but the machine itself stays in the same exact location...because it's stationary.

(The 9-Minute Novelist.)

Stationery, on the other hand, is a noun that refers to the paper someone may use to write letters. Sometimes the stationery is packaged with matching envelopes (like yellow paper with yellow envelopes). Stationery is typically sold specifically for the purpose of letter writing.

Make sense?

Here are a few examples:

Correct: I thought giving him a stationary activity like making a puzzle would keep him occupied and out of the way.
Incorrect: I thought giving him a stationery activity like making a puzzle would keep him occupied and out of the way.

Correct: She loved her new stationery but realized she was short on postage.
Incorrect: She loved her new stationary but realized she was short on postage.

Correct: He enjoyed writing letters outside but quickly realized he needed to put a rock on the stationery to keep it stationary with the wind.
Incorrect: He enjoyed writing letters outside but quickly realized he needed to put a rock on the stationary to keep it stationery with the wind.

So stationery can be stationary, and most people would consider writing on their stationery a stationary activity, but how do we keep these two homophones straight in our minds? For me, I think of the final four letters of each word "-nary" and "-nery." OK, ready for this?

With stationary, I think of "nary" a movement; that is, immobile. For stationery, I take the "e" in "nery" and think of the double "e" in "letter" and the triple "e" in "envelope." So get out that stationary stationery and write your friends and family already.

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Grammar and Mechanics

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