The Farlex Grammar Book > English Spelling and Pronunciation > Common Mistakes and Commonly Confused Words > discreet vs. discrete vs. discretion
discreet vs. discrete vs. discretion
What is the difference between discreet and discrete?
The adjectives discreet and discrete are both pronounced the same way: /dɪˈskrit/.
Discreet is the more common of the two, meaning “unobtrusive; made, done, or situated so as to attract little or no notice” or “careful to avoid social awkwardness or discomfort, especially by not sharing delicate information.” For example:
- “I would just ask that you be discreet regarding the ties between your father and this institution.”
- “We are always discreet with our clients’ personal information.”
- “They chose a discreet location for their meeting.”
The less common term, discrete, means “separate or distinct from another thing or things” or “consisting of unconnected, separate, and distinct parts,” as in:
- “To help conceptualize the notion of time, we break it down into discrete units, such as seconds, minutes, and hours.”
- “Speech is thought of as being discrete, a collection of unique individual sounds that form a system.”
Adding to this confusion is the noun discretion, which looks like it should be derived from the adjective discrete, due to the single E before “-tion.” Discretion, however, actually means “an act or instance of being discreet,” as in:
- “Your discretion is appreciated while we investigate this issue.”
(The noun form of discrete, on the other hand, is discreteness.)
Spelling Tricks and Tips
Luckily, there is a helpful mnemonic we can use to help remember the appropriate meaning for the two different spellings:
- Discrete means “separate” or “distinct,” so we must separate the two Es with a T.
- Discreet usually refers to keeping something “close to your chest,” so the two Es are kept close together.
Get all volumes of The Farlex Grammar Book in paperback or eBook.