Stationary vs. Stationery

chalkboard, stationary, stationery

Stationary and stationery are just one letter off, but that seemingly small difference changes the meaning of these words entirely. These two terms share the Latin root statiōnārius, which derives from the word station meaning “a standing place.”

Stationary with an a is the older of these two terms, and it means “fixed in one place and not moving,” like a stationary bicycle at the gym. Stationery with an e stems from the term stationer, which refers to “a person who sells the materials used in writing, such as paper, pens, pencils, and ink.” Though now archaic, stationer also used to refer to to a bookseller or publisher. Stationery eventually came to mean the things a stationer sold, though stationeries are a rare sight these days, when receiving snail mail from a friend is a special occasion.

How do you remember the difference? One way is to remember that a stands for adjective. So when you see stationary with an a, you’ll know that it is an adjective and as such it must describe something or someone. Stationery is a noun. Another mnemonic to help you is: let the a near the end of stationary remind you of “at rest” and the e near the end of stationery stand for “envelope.”

We demystify other commonly confused words here.

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  1. Lou -  July 5, 2015 - 4:34 pm

    In elementary school we would tell the children that the stationery with the e goes in the envelope…which starts with an e!

    • Sef -  December 8, 2015 - 12:10 am

      If it’s stationAry, it’s not Active. That’s how I learned it.

  2. Laurara Monique -  April 14, 2015 - 6:23 pm

    This was some excellent information that I will be able to apply toward my own business. Thank you so much for sharing and blogging this important information!


    Lauara Monique

    • Lol -  April 19, 2015 - 5:35 pm


  3. c-bob -  April 14, 2015 - 9:35 am

    I always remembered from the word letter which ends in “er” instead of “ar”. I guess today we will need to define “letter” first.

  4. The Doctor -  April 13, 2015 - 1:51 pm

    Wow fascinating. I only use stationary. :P XD

    Who knew. SO much wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.

    • Matthew -  April 17, 2015 - 3:38 pm

      Would you believe that yours truly, a 40 year old, only found out months ago that there were two spellings? Shame on me!

      • Ron -  July 5, 2015 - 4:30 pm

        I just found out now ??

    • Dalek -  October 29, 2016 - 12:10 am

      Thumbs up for the wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.

  5. Cathy -  April 13, 2015 - 5:30 am

    4-13-15 If you are just learning the English language, kudos to you and good luck because it is tricky. An easy way to differentiate between these two common words is by remembering; stationery has ‘er’ within the end of the word which could be associated with paper note the ‘er’ in paper also.

  6. JPWinland -  April 12, 2015 - 9:29 pm

    BTW, this is also like the words Principal and Principle.

    • Jessica -  September 26, 2016 - 7:05 pm

      I always remembered it as the principal of my school is my PAL.

  7. JPWinland -  April 12, 2015 - 9:24 pm

    Maybe you could also clarify some words that are pronounced the same, but are all spelled quite differently according to usage, but used out of context by some. Such as the words: there, their, and they’re. Show what they refer to, with some examples maybe. Or how about words that are spelled the same, but have a different sound and meaning? And although some would read it one way, it could be pronounced very differently, along with a completely different meaning from the way that person pronounced it. I know we’ve all seen it happen (as have the online grammar police lol). And maybe some of us have also made the same mistake at one point or another. It’s a good thing to point out nonetheless.

    • Lol -  April 19, 2015 - 5:37 pm

      Toooooooooooooo much!

  8. vir_a -  April 12, 2015 - 4:51 pm

    Compliment vs. complement, advice vs advise

  9. Larissa Johnson -  April 12, 2015 - 1:00 pm

    Re: Sam Devine

    I liked your comment. It is such a shame that our schools can’t even spell correctly! These are the people educating our children. There are so many problems with that one fact alone, I could go on forever.

    • Frank Casale -  April 15, 2015 - 12:48 pm

      I agree whole-heartedly, Larissa. I really don’t know whom the blame should be put upon; the public school system, the teaching staff, the students, or all of them!
      Everything flows downhill. Unfortunately, it’s the people at the bottom that suffer.
      In my opinion, sometimes I wonder if the public education system is purposely turning out illiterates!

  10. Max -  April 12, 2015 - 12:59 am

    I wonder if there is any difference in pronunciation of these two words, I guess there’s not or it’s hard to hear for me.

  11. Shirley Brown -  April 11, 2015 - 8:25 pm

    I will never look at those words in the same way again. but, also I have to say explaining them in a way to easily remember, excellent.

  12. Delmer -  April 11, 2015 - 6:43 am

    nice, it is so informative

  13. lotus fire -  April 11, 2015 - 2:31 am

    Good way to remeber

  14. lotus fire -  April 11, 2015 - 2:31 am

    The ways to remember it are very clever

  15. Jomie -  April 10, 2015 - 8:13 pm

    Yes, we design and print stationery.

  16. Deliana -  April 10, 2015 - 7:29 pm

    Unfortunately there are a lot of people out there who think spelling is not important.

    • G. Pradeep Kumar -  April 12, 2015 - 2:39 am

      very very easily learning disctionary for me pls. send us

    • Not applicable -  April 12, 2015 - 1:52 pm

      lol not first comment, that came in at April 9th 2015 at 3:03 am. Better luck next time.

    • Margaret Helen Smith. -  April 12, 2015 - 8:50 pm

      Stationery= a [letter]. Stationary= a [car] not able to move.

    • Lol -  April 19, 2015 - 5:38 pm

      Be quiet

  17. Ruth B. Agar -  April 10, 2015 - 9:49 am

    I enjoy these clarifications – and the subsequent testing of oneself when you print the “exams.” It is true the background sometimes gives a clue too obvious to miss. Have you ever explained the difference between farther and further. My mother used to correct me all the time and to this day, I still misuse them, I am sure.

    • JPWinland -  April 12, 2015 - 9:06 pm

      Farther and Further. Very good suggestion, Ruth! :) Looking forward to one day seeing them clarified too.

    • JPWinland -  April 12, 2015 - 9:11 pm

      Farther and Further. Great suggestion, Ruth! Looking forward to one day seeing that clarified too! There are some other words misunderstood, and those that are used out of context that I find to have a pet peeve about. Or, those that sound the same, but misspelled as well as used in the wrong context. Maybe Dictionary.com will soon clear those mishaps up in the near future too. Thanks again for sharing!


  18. Destiny -  April 10, 2015 - 7:40 am

    Hey people I love school!!!!!

    • Venus -  April 10, 2015 - 9:06 pm

      I love school too. I am presently attending Colorado Technical University to obtain by Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice with my concentration in Human Services. I love to learn new things.

    • olay -  April 14, 2015 - 6:52 am

      nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo school is baddddddddddddddddddddddddddd

  19. Sam Devine -  April 9, 2015 - 8:15 pm

    I had to alert my daughter’s High School, two years running, to the Stationary List they sent home so I could buy the necessary pens, pencils and paper.. By the second year I told them their list was going nowhere…

    • Alex -  April 12, 2015 - 3:26 am


    • Hadley -  April 13, 2015 - 12:30 pm

      Too cute! Your response gave the me just dose of laughter I needed to make it through the afternoon.

      • Hadley -  April 13, 2015 - 12:34 pm

        Rather, “gave me just the dose”……how did I even do that??
        At any rate, I’m still smiling.

      • Hadley -  April 13, 2015 - 12:36 pm

        Rather, “gave me just the…”

    • Carpediem -  April 27, 2015 - 1:26 pm

      Stationary List or stationery list?

  20. Rycky Wong -  April 9, 2015 - 4:00 pm

    Very good method to remember what is the difference between these 2 words

  21. I❤️fnaf -  April 9, 2015 - 3:21 pm

    This is cool!☺️

  22. Doreen -  April 9, 2015 - 1:16 pm

    I think the best way to remember the difference is that pEns and pEncils are stationEry and that vAns and cArs can be stationAry

    • Anna -  April 12, 2015 - 2:25 am

      Doreen, hello there…..I think that you’re clEvEr!!

    • Arrogance -  April 12, 2015 - 1:39 pm

      This is a horrible mnemonic device. Please uninstall your brain.

    • Amjad Chaudhry -  April 13, 2015 - 12:36 am

      Very Good Idea to remember the both words but what if you can just remember “station”?

    • Penny Gregory -  April 13, 2015 - 10:11 am

      Wow, Destiny!! Your enthusiasm is wondrous! I see that you are on a Dictionary site–good for you!

      Words are the gateway into the mind (Yes, I REALLY said that!!) and if you have a strong desire and love of books like me, then you are more awesome than ever! Way to go!

    • Chips37 -  April 13, 2015 - 4:46 pm

      I think thats a very good way to remember the difference

    • Frank Casale -  April 23, 2015 - 7:58 pm

      As far as memory is concerned, whatever works for you, Doreen.

  23. Jannatun maowa -  April 9, 2015 - 10:13 am

    No comment

    • Alex -  April 12, 2015 - 3:27 am

      You just did that already.

  24. Ricky Forguson -  April 9, 2015 - 8:06 am

    A man walks into Office Depot and approaches the kid behind the counter, “Do you keep stationery here?” The kid responds, “Naw, mister. I gotta git up an’ walk around every once in a while!”

    • Frank Casale -  April 10, 2015 - 11:59 am

      Rim Shot.

    • damien adler -  April 13, 2015 - 8:00 am

      that’s funny

    • Penny Gregory -  April 13, 2015 - 10:13 am


  25. Abuuarqam -  April 9, 2015 - 7:23 am

    on my side,,,i can’t say anything,,,

  26. Mark -  April 9, 2015 - 3:03 am

    The best way to remember the difference is simply that you buy stationEry from a stationEr.

    • Jeff -  April 11, 2015 - 9:39 pm

      That’s the one…just remember that there is (or was) such a thing as a stationer. The “-er” commonly indicates a person involved in doing something. Certainly not someone stationary ;-)

    • Jai -  April 23, 2015 - 11:09 am

      … and that if you stAy in one place, you are stationAry! I always thought that one to be fairly easy. :)


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