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Notes on English usage - stationery or stationary?

Updated on February 3, 2008

Two words that are often confused are "stationery" and "stationary". Their meanings are very different - the former refers to materials used for writing, such as paper and envelopes, the latter means standing still, or not moving. The two meanings are clear in the sentence:

The car was stationary at the roadside while its owner was buying stationery in the shop.

How do you remember which one is which? A simple way is to remember that somebody who does something is a "doer", not a "doar". Somebody who sells notepaper and envelopes is a "stationer" not a "stationar". What he sells is therefore "stationery", not "stationary".


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      John Welford 9 years ago from UK

      My reaction to this is is - what utter nonsense! For one thing, what is the point of returning to spellings of words that were extant hundreds of years ago? We might as well decide that Chaucerian spellings are "more correct" than modern ones and all go back to speaking and writing Middle English!

      For another thing, what is the point of adding confusion by using the same word for two entirely different purposes? There are enough instances of this in English as it is - for example "entrance" meaning "way in" and "to use magic". Americans already confuse matters by using "story" to mean both "tale" and "floor of a house", whereas in British English the latter is "storey". Confusing matters by making "staionary" perform two functions is surely a move in the wrong direction.

      I would also ask whether the word for a person who sells stationery will now become "stationar"? No thanks!

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      Stationary nation 9 years ago

      However see that shows that stationary is the preferred spelling