Stationary vs. Stationery

What is the difference?


Stationary and stationery are two words that are commonly confused in the English language. Some native speakers don't even realize that there are two different spellings!

After this lesson, you will be able to remember the differences in spelling and meaning between the adjective stationary and the noun stationery.

Stationary vs. Stationery

In order to understand the differences between the two words, let's look at their definitions and examples.

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All English Tenses

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All Tenses


Stationary

Stationary is an adjective that describes an object that is not in motion. It can describe a physical object or an unchanging condition.

For example, a stationary bike is a bike that does not move, no matter how fast someone pedals on it (at the gym, for example).

stationary bikes at the gym

A bus is stationary when it waits at the bus stop to pick up passengers.

a stationary bus

When used to describe unchanging conditions, stationary means "stable." For example, a stationary population is one that does not rise or fall in numbers.

a population of penguins


Examples

To describe objects:

  1. His car remained stationary after the light turned green.
    (Even though the car should move at the green light, it stayed where it was.)

  2. I remained stationary so as not to attract attention.
    (I didn't move because I didn't want people to notice me.)

  3. The desk is stationary because it is attached to the floor.
    (Because the desk is attached to the floor it cannot be moved.)

To describe a condition:

  1. The condition of our sick dog has remained stationary.
    (The dog's sickness is not worse, but it is not getting better.)

  2. Biologists are happy with the stationary population of the fish in the nearby pond.
    (Biologists are happy that the population of the fish has not increased or decreased.)


Stationery

Stationery is a noun that means items used for taking notes or writing letters.

stationery

It is commonly used to refer to paper with matching logos and designs. This includes: paper, envelopes, pens, pencils, notepads, note cards, etc.

stationery

Stores that sell these products are often called stationery stores.

a stationery store


Examples

  1. I bought stationery from the office supply store.
    (I bought pens, paper and other writing supplies from a store that sells office supplies.)

  2. May I use some of your stationery to write a letter to Jim?
    (May I use some of your paper and an envelope to write a letter to Jim?)

  3. Molly used the hotel stationery to write a "thank you" message to the hotel staff.
    (Molly wrote a message on paper provided by the hotel to thank the hotel staff.)

  4. When writing to clients, please use our business stationery.
    (When writing to clients use paper and envelopes with the business name and logo.)

  5. Make sure you have a good supply of bank stationery for our customers.
    (Make sure you keep enough of the bank's cards and paper to use and give to customers.)


Tips

Stationary is used to describe the state of a physical object or condition, whereas stationery is a name for writing supplies.

Aside from the meaning, the main difference you want to pay attention to is the spelling. To prevent spelling mistakes, remember that the "a" in stationary is like "at rest," and the "e" in stationery is like "envelope."

Both of these words are pronounced the same way. They rhyme with dictionary.


A Story to Practice Stationary vs. Stationery

Sam works for a company that sells stationery. However, his work at the office doesn't progress because everyone bumps into his desk. His desk is on wheels and does not stay stationary. Whenever someone hits his desk, his stationery is not stationary, and spills onto the floor. He constantly has to pick up his stationery and re-organize the desk.

Sam at his desk with flying papers

One day, he becomes furious and decides to use his stationery to write a letter to his boss.

"Dear Mr. Gollyson,

My desk is located between the office and break room. Whenever my coworkers go to the break room, they bump into my desk and it does not stay stationary. When they hit my desk, my stationery falls to the ground and I cannot focus on my work. The number of reports I've turned in is stationary because I constantly have to re-organize my stationery! May I move to the back of the office?

Best,
Sam"

The next day, Sam is full of joy. Mr. Gollyson decides to give him a new stationary desk in the back of the office. He does not have to worry about re-organizing his stationery, and the amount of reports he makes is no longer stationary.

happy Sam


Quiz

Answer the following 10 questions and then check your answers. Each question is worth 10 points.

Part 1:

  1. Which of the following is the correct definition of stationary?
    1. The liquid state of an object.
    2. The speed at which an object moves.
    3. Supplies used to take notes or write letters.
    4. A word that describes the state of an object or condition that doesn't move or change.
  1. Which of the following is the correct definition of stationery?
    1. A word that describes the state of an object or condition that doesn't move or change.
    2. The materials used for a painting.
    3. Supplies used to take notes or write letters.
    4. The desk someone uses at an office.

  2. Which sentence is written correctly?
    1. I was able to ride the stationary bike down the street.
    2. I need to buy more stationery so I can write my mother a letter.
    3. The stock price has remained stationery.
    4. You can use my stationary to take notes.
  1. Which sentence is written incorrectly?
    1. The office supply store ran out of stationery.
    2. Since my cup remained stationary the water didn't tip over.
    3. The stationery set came with paper, an envelope, and a pen.
    4. Please stay stationery while I cut your hair.


Part 2:

  1. Stationary is ___________, while stationery is ___________.

    1. an adjective, a noun
    2. an adjective, an adjective
    3. a verb, an adjective
    4. a noun, a verb
  2. Which of the following is true?
    1. The "y" in stationary is silent, while the "y" in stationery is pronounced.
    2. Both stationary and stationery are pronounced the same way.
    3. Stationary and stationery rhyme with carry.
    4. The "a" in stationary is a long vowel, while the "a" in stationery is a short vowel.

Part 3:

  1. All of my ___________ is white.
    1. stationary
    2. stationeries
    3. stationery
    4. stationaries
  1. The bench will remain ___________, no matter how hard you try to move it.
    1. stationaries
    2. stationary
    3. stationeries
    4. stationery
  1. The patient's condition is ___________ at the moment.
    1. stationary
    2. stationery
    3. stationaries
    4. stationeries

  2. Please give Paul some of your ___________ so he can write to his father.
    1. stationery
    2. stationary
    3. stationaries
    4. stationeries


Answer Key

Part 1: 1. D | 2. C | 3. B

Part 2: 1. A | 2. B

Part 3: 1. C | 2. B | 3. A |4. A


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