I don’t know how many times I’ve looked up stationary and stationery.
With an “a,” stationary means to stay in one place. It goes back to the 17th century and grows from the word station; someone who stays at the station is stationary.
It’s not that common a word, showing up 3.5 times in every million words of written English. On the other hand, it’s more common than stationery with an”e,” which makes an appearance only 1.8 times in the same span.
Stationery is stuff you use to write with, especially paper. It also goes back to the 17th century and comes out of the word stationer, which once referred to a bookseller or publisher.
Bottom line: How do you remember the difference? Grammar Girl suggests associating the “a” in stationary with the “a” in standing (i.e., you’re standing rather than moving). wikiHow runs a couple of other ideas up the flag pole. First, paper has an “er” just like stationery, so paper-oriented stationery has an “er.” Second, “stationary” has a “NAR” at the end, which can stand for “now at rest.”
If you have a better memory aid, I’d love to hear about it. In the meantime, take comfort knowing you’re not likely to need either of these words all that often.
Are you ready to supercharge your business blog? The Grumpy Old Scribe is a blog content writer with three decades’ experience as a professional writer and editor.