‘Stationary’ or ‘Stationery’?

stationaryBack to school time: a time when proprietors try to cash in on young ones’ collective desire for decorative protractors, pens and paraphernalia. It is also a time when signage misspelling abounds. The A-board to the right was in my shopping precinct. Homophones are tricky. Here’s the correct usage: 

Stationary: adjective; not moving.

Stationery: noun; writing materials. 

The way that I was taught to remember this is to think of the -er in paper. “I bought pap-er from a station-er.”

stationeryTheir etymology is linked. They both originate in the Latin stationarius, which comes from stare which means ‘to stand’. You are stationary when you are standing in one place. Also, stationer (a person who sells stationery) was a tradesperson who had set up at a fixed location and was therefore standing in the same spot, stationary

One more time: 

“The paper is stationery.”

“The car is stationary.”

I hope that was helpful. How do you remember it? Comments welcome!

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4 Comments

Filed under Common Errors, Editing, Proofreading

4 responses to “‘Stationary’ or ‘Stationery’?

  1. Great catch on that sign board! Since I am a complete sucker for new stationery, I likely would have wrinkled my nose at the misspelled sign, but still gone in to see what there was to see.

    Thanks for sharing! Sadly, I have no additional tips or secrets for remembering when to use -ary or -ery.

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  2. michelle

    I was always taught “e for envelope”.

    Like

  3. The delivery of stationery sat stationary on the pavement. Occasionally, a passer-by would take a ream or two, looking shadily around before they did so.

    Like

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