Stationary, Stationery

Don’t Unpack Stationery from a Non-Stationary Vehicle

by Owen Fourie

Unpacking stationery from a vehicle outside a small stationery shop is not an activity that will attract much attention.

What will get plenty of attention is if the once-stationary vehicle begins to move while still being unloaded.

The driver, who forgot to apply the brakes, is on the curb receiving the boxes of stationery from his assistant who is on the truck.

Things rapidly become rather messy as paper begins to litter the sidewalk and both men scream warnings of the predicament. What happened? You’ll find out, shortly, after this observation of the homophones stationery and stationary.

Both words were used in the story. They are distinguished in meaning by the last vowel in each word.


This word is an adjective. It can be used to describe the state or condition of something that is not moving or something that has a fixed position in space.

The train remained stationary until the last passenger was safely seated.

During the two hours that he is on duty at Buckingham Palace, a guardsman will be stationary for periods of about ten minutes before marching up and down in front of his sentry box.


This word is a noun. It is a collective noun that describes the things that are used for writing: paper, envelopes, pencils, pens (including digital pens), ink, rulers, and related material.

Before classes begin, be sure to be adequately equipped with the recommended stationery for your course.

It is wise to check your supply of stationery regularly and stock up as needed.

Stationery or stationary?

Here is a trick to help you to know which word to use:

Use the point of difference between these words—the last vowel.

  • Associate the a in stationary with the a in stand. To be stationary is to stand still in one position.
  • Associate the e in stationery with the e in sell. To equip yourself with stationery, you go to a stationer who will sell you what you need.

Be sure to unpack stationery only from a stationary vehicle

The alert and extremely fit driver ran after the moving truck, scrambled inside, and brought it to a halt before it could collide with anything or cause any injury.

However, the stationer refused to accept any of the stationery that had spread over the sidewalk.

I wonder if it can be said that the stationer remained stationary in his resolve not to accept the soiled part of the consignment? What do you think?


Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome. Are you struggling with homophones or any other aspect of grammar and correct usage? Ask here for clarification.

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