Stationary vs. Stationery

English can be such a tricky language to learn as I discovered when I was teaching an ESL (English as a Second Language) course not too long ago. We have so many words that sound exactly alike but are spelled differently and mean entirely different things.

One word that tripped up people in my ESL class was stationary. The majority of the class knew about the one with the ary ending but not about the ery ending, so I was marking up papers left and right. They thought the word that conveyed something was standing still was the same word that conveyed the type of letterhead a person was choosing. But that’s just not the case.

Let me give you an example, (and I have a great trick to help you remember which is correct):

  • The soldier remained stationary even through the rainstorm.
  • The stationery I chose for my business is beautiful.

In the first sentence, I describe someone standing still, so ary is the ending of choice. I the second sentence, I describe a paper product, hence the ery ending is used.

The easy way to remember which ending to use is to remember that stand has an a in the word as does stationary, and paper has an e in it just as stationery does.

I truly wish I could remember which English teacher taught me that trick because he or she deserves credit, but I’m drawing a blank when I try to think back. I hope this trick sticks with you as it has stuck with me for so many years.

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