'Stationary' or 'Stationery'? What Is the Difference? | Mastering Grammar

(Last Updated: 13 February 2024)

stationary vs stationery

Stationary vs Stationery: Understanding the Difference

Stationary and stationery sound the same (both are pronounced /ˈsteɪʃənri/ in Standard Southern British English) but their meanings are completely different.

Stationary (with an A) is an adjective that means 'not moving':

✅ The train has been stationary for over ten minutes.

I'm going to be late for school. My bus has been stationary for nearly fifteen minutes.

Stationery (with an E) is a noun that refers to items such as paper, pens, envelopes, and notebooks:

✅ There is a stationery shop just across the road.

I need to buy some new stationery before I start school next week.

Note that stationery is uncountable, so it is never used in the plural and it never takes the indefinite article a:

I bought many stationeries that I didn't need at all.
I bought a lot of stationery that I didn't need at all.

They sell the widest range of stationeries in Hong Kong.
They sell the widest range of stationery in Hong Kong.

The charm of a stationery goes far beyond what you can see.
The charm of a piece of stationery goes far beyond what you can see.

Tips for Remembering the Difference between Stationary and Stationery

A handy tip is to remember that stationery includes envelopes.

The spelling difference can act as a helpful mnemonic device.

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Examples from the Media

The vintage Corvette from his Game days is parked out there. It's a handsome machine—low-roofed, thick-wheeled—but it has the rather dusty and forlorn look of a car that has been stationary a while. —The Guardian (2015)

You can get an excellent workout on a stationary bike, but you aren't as likely to develop good cycling form because the seat-and-handlebar configuration is, in most cases, too upright. The Washington Post (1986)

Her first attempts at products included enamel pins, pendants and badges, but her obsession with stationery and small objects led her to start a studio in 2017 to offer up desk delights that are "a mix of minimalist, quirky and conceptual." Toronto Star (2022)

Stationery enthusiast Joel Chung Yin-chai believes having the right pencil could have a positive impact on a child's life. South China Morning Post (2017)

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Should It Be 'Stationary' or 'Stationery'?


Choose the correct word to complete each sentence.

1. Don't forget to bring your stationary/stationery.

2. A stationary/stationery bus can hide pedestrians who are trying to cross the road just in front of it.

3. How did you manage to hit a stationary/stationery car?

4. I used to walk past that stationary/stationery shop every day on my way home.

5. There are many stationary/stationery bikes at the gym.

Answer Key

1. stationery    2. stationary    3. stationary    4. stationery    5. stationary

Real-World Examples of Misuse

1. When a verb follows a preposition, the verb must be in the gerund form (i.e., the -ing form).
2. I have assumed that the students are required to wear their masks. If they are only required to have them with them, you could say students must have their masks with them at all times.
3. The correct expression is at all times.
4. Stationary refers to something that is immobile or does not move. Stationery is the correct spelling in this instance and refers to the things needed for writing, such as paper, pencils, and pens.

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