I'm a non-native english speaker (from Brazil). I'm looking for the most common day-to-day word for the stationery device called "mechanical pencil".

Indeed, while "mechanical pencil" seems to be the most commonly used word for that device, at least in US, I've also found the words "propelling pencil", for UK and "pacer", for Australia.

I'd rather stick with mechanical pencil, but this word seems awkward, comparing to the brazilian word for this object (something like "penciler").

So, is there any simpler or most-commonly used word for that, or can I really stick to mechanical pencil without any further concerns?

  • 3
    'Propelling pencil' is the only term I'm familiar with (in the UK) for this type. Aug 7, 2014 at 22:15
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    I agree with Edwin. You cannot say 'mechanical pencil' in English. My first thought was that you meant an Apple Pencil (iPad product) but obviously that's not mechanical! Propelling pencil is the only term I know for this.
    – Jelila
    Feb 18, 2018 at 0:46
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    US - mechanical. UK - propelling. Australia - pacer, India - Microtip. Good job you asked! 😊 None works in all locations, as far as I can see.
    – Jelila
    Feb 18, 2018 at 0:53
  • @EdwinAshworth "Propelling pencil" relates to the type where the parts of the body are turned relative to each other to push (propel) the lead out of the end then retract it again. The more common type these days is the "clutch pencil' where you press the top to release the grip on the lead and gauge the length you want against a surface (usually the paper you're going to write on.). I see "mechanical pencil" as a useful general term for all current and future types of loose lead pencils and "propelling pencil" and "clutch pencil" as names for the specific types.
    – BoldBen
    Mar 14, 2021 at 8:20
  • Interestingly the WH Smith website (I would say about as British as you can get) refers to replacement pencil leads either as "mechanical pencil leads" or "pencil leads" and doesn't mention "propelling pencil leads" at all. This makes sense to me as the leads fit both types. A further search on their site only turned up "mechanical pencils" which all seemed to be of the clutch type.
    – BoldBen
    Mar 14, 2021 at 8:35

5 Answers 5


Commonly (in the US), people don't distinguish between a mechanical pencil and simply "pencil". The full phrase is usually only used when the speaker needs to unambiguously refer to a mechanical pencil (rather than a wooden one): "Have you seen my mechanical pencil?"

  • Excellent! This is exactly the sort of thing I'd like to hear. Aug 7, 2014 at 18:07
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    At no time can you refer to a 'mechanical pencil' in British English. No-one will know what you mean. You'd have to say 'propelling pencil'. Sounds like the author will need take careful account of 'the audience' and their country/location before deciding how to refer to that... automated pencil!
    – Jelila
    Feb 18, 2018 at 0:48
  • In Canada they are both 'pencils' You refer to a mechanical one if you mean it specifically, or may refer to a brand especially if it takes a different lead. (" My Staedtler pencils take a 2.5mm lead" A wooden pencils is that, or a common pencil, or a stick pencil. The increase of computers is relegating both pencils and pens to the status of 'antiquarian' Much like fountain pens are now. Jan 31, 2020 at 16:55
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    In the US, it has only one name - mechanical pencil. It is understood by absolutely everyone over the age of six. I have never heard of any of the alternatives, and I am an engineer that has used mechanical pencils for a long time.
    – Phil Sweet
    Mar 14, 2021 at 13:53
  • @PhilSweet -- I'm vaguely recalling that "click pencil" was sometimes used in the US, back when these were a thing.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 14, 2021 at 19:51

I live in Australia, and we call them pacers here. It's common in day to day usage - "have you seen my pacer?" or "can I borrow a pacer?" is a very common phrase you might hear in the classroom, for example. A pacer makes that distinction between a wooden and a mechanical pencil. Generally though, people ask to borrow a pencil, and sometimes the person lending you the pencil will give you the option as to whether you want a mechanical or normal pencil.

I personally really like the word 'pacer' - it's short, and can be tossed around like the word 'pencil'. Australians like to abbreviate everything, really, so 'pacer' is a whole lot nicer than saying 'mechanical pencil' or any other name with two words. Haha.

  • Interesting, I've never heard it used in the UK. You have a different word for felt pen as well, don't you?
    – Jelila
    Feb 18, 2018 at 0:49

No, in India, we call it as clutch pencil.

  • Do you have a reference (eg an Indian English dictionary definition, or a link to its published usage) to support this? At EL&U we are normally looking for authoritative answers supported by evidence, rather than personal experience or opinion that might be misinformed or idiosyncratic. For further guidance, see How to Answer. :-) Mar 16, 2021 at 5:20

In India we usually call it the Microtip pencil because of the thin lead. Also, here we specifically distinguish between microtip pencil and a normal pencil. I have no idea if this word is prevalent in other countries.


The British art-supply web site, Jackson's gives

Clutch pencil, lead holder, mechanical pencil, draughting pencil, automatic pencil, technical pencil, refillable pencil and propelling pencil are just some of the many names given to a spring-loaded or twist-fed holder with a drawing lead that extends as the lead is used up.

And thereafter goes into some detail.

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