Homophones: Stationery or stationary?

Stationery or stationary; which should you use? They sound the same and only have a difference of one letter so it’s not surprising that these tricky homophones often get confused.


The word ‘stationery’ derives from the word ‘stationer’. A stationer is a person who sells stationery. Stationery refers to writing or office supplies such as pens, paper, notebooks etc.

I need to order some stationery

There is 50% off all stationery

The stationery cupboard needs clearing out

Many people incorrectly use stationary in place of stationery but it is rare that the error is made the other way round.


Stationary originates from the Latin word “stationarius” and means standing still, not moving or not intended to be moved.

The car was stationary at the traffic lights

The gym has a number of stationary bikes you can use

We remained stationary as the parade passed us

Stationary also describes something that is not changing in quantity or condition; for example, ‘a stationary population’.

The word stationary is also used in astronomy to describe a planet having no apparent motion in longitude.


How to remember which is which

Stationary is an adjective so it describes something or someone; they are stationary or it is stationary. You could remember that there is an ‘a’ in stationary and ‘a’ is for adjective.

Another way to remember is ‘a’ is for ‘arrived’ or ‘at rest’. If something has arrived or is at rest then it comes to stop or is standing still and is therefore stationary.

To remember the correct use of stationery think of the ‘e’ being for envelope or the ‘er’ being for paper. Paper and envelopes are items of stationery.

Is your stationery stationary?

Hopefully, we have cleared up the difference and given you ideas to remember which to use but here are a couple more examples just in case.

The getaway vehicle was stationary during the robbery but I could not note the number plate down as I had no stationery.

The queue in the stationery shop was moving so slowly it appeared to be stationary.


At Make Your Copy Count, we love words and we’d love to know which other homophones you get stuck with. Tweet us @MYCCUK. We’ll be covering more homophones going forward so follow us on Facebook or Twitter to make sure you see our posts.

We look forward to helping you Make Your Copy Count.


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