Stationary or Stationery?
How do you tell the difference between stationary or stationery? The two aren’t interchangeable: that single vowel does make a big difference.
Picture this: you’re at the gym and you’re ready to exercise. Do you get on a stationary or stationery bike?
How about when you’re going to send a snail-mail letter: do you write it out on stationary or stationery?
The two words are examples of homophones. Homophones are words that are sound alike but have different meanings and spellings. They can be tricky because you usually only know which word is being used if you see it in print.
Stationary has two meanings, although the more commonly-encountered one is “not moving” or “intended to remain in one place.” That exercise bike I mentioned a moment ago is a stationary bike because while you pedal and pedal away, you don’t actually go anywhere (geographically, at least) because the bicycle is mounted to the floor. Spinning classes use stationary bikes to burn calories without leaving the gym.
The second meaning of stationary is similar: unchanging, constant or fixed. An example of this use is describing an area as having a “stationary population,” which would mean it isn’t growing or declining.
Stationery, on the other hand, has a broader meaning than many people might actually realize. Most of us who use stationery when writing a letter tend to believe it includes the monogrammed paper and envelopes. However, the word is considered a noun that broadly covers various writing materials: not only the paper and envelopes but also the writing implements, different kinds of paper and other office supplies.
So a stationery store would have more than just packs of paper and corresponding envelopes for letter writing.
How do you keep them straight?
If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know I like mnemonics, which are simple memory aids. Grammar has plenty of these for this very purpose.
If you can remember the word envelope, which starts with an E, then you can associate it with stationery, which then leaves the other word, the one with an A, for uses that don’t include envelopes and letter-writing.
It’s a simple trick, but many of us find this kind of trick helpful. Perhaps you will as well.