Discreet vs. Discrete – How to Use Each Correctly

enhancedwriting/ August 17, 2017/ Uncategorized

discrete versus discreet

What’s the Difference Between Discreet and Discrete?

These two words are homophones, which means they sound completely alike but have different meanings and spellings. Because of these different meanings, it is important to not confuse the two.

Discreet is an adjective that means to be prudent when discussing private matters.

  • You’re the only one who knows my secret. Please be discreet about this information, as I don’t want anyone else to know.

Discrete is an adjective that means separate or distinct.

  • This tool may look like one continuous piece of the same material. However, it actually consists of several discrete parts.

Since these words have similar spellings and the same pronunciation, it is common for people to confuse the two. Luckily, by understanding them each in context you can avoid this type of error.

Now, let’s go over a few ways you can use these words in your sentences.

Using Discreet in a Sentence

When to use discreet: Discreet is an adjective that can either mean unostentatious or subtle or tactful or judicious when discussing private, personal information.

For example:

  • She was very discreet as she pick pocketed the man’s wallet.
  • I trust you to be discreet with this information. Don’t tell anyone who doesn’t need to know, as it might cause a panic.

Although there aren’t any idioms that use discreet, there are several that use discretion, which is the noun form of the same word.

For example:

  • discretion is the better part of valor: it is better to be prudent than just brave
    • Yes, it was brave of you to attack my mugger, but your life is more important to me than my wallet. Discretion is the better part of valor.
  • the soul of discretion: a very discreet person
    • Don’t worry. You can tell me your secret. I’m the soul of discretion!
  • throw discretion to the wind: stop being careful and discrete
    • I know it was dangerous to jump off the moving train, but it looked fun and I decided to throw discretion to the wind.
  • an ounce of discretion is worth a pound of wit: it is better to know to stay silent when necessary than it is to be funny
    • He thinks he’s a comedian, but he’s always offending people with his jokes. An ounce of discretion is worth a pound of wit.

Remember, however, that discreet and discretion are different parts of speech, and, therefore, they are not grammatically interchangeable.

Using Discrete in a Sentence

When to use discrete: Discreet is an adjective that means discontinuous or characterized by individual, separate parts.

For example,

  • The book is unusual in that it is separated into several discrete parts, which are totally unconnected.
  • The mechanical device consists of a few different discrete parts which all work together to perform a function.

Discrete and separate are synonyms. Also, there are some technical definitions of discrete within the field of mathematics.

Remembering Discreet vs. Discrete

You can use the endings of these two words to remember which meaning belongs to each.

For example, if a friend asks you to be discreet, it would be rude to tell other people his or her secret. Conversely, it is sweet to be discreet. Remember that sweet and discreet both end with eet.

For discrete, you can remember this rhyming sentence about two sports players who are two separate individuals: Pete and Margarete are discrete athletes.

Outside Examples

  • Kim was sitting at the terminal he always rented — with his belongings discreetly placed along with him. –New York Daily News
  • “I’m concerned this changes their behavior and puts them into a scavenging and feeding mode,” Lowe said. “Most of the time they’re just swimming around in a discreet area.” –OC Register
  • Yet, most public attention has focused on the architecture. What Zumthor is designing, however, is not a discrete object. –LA Times
  • Voice-based computing and digital assistants are a step in this direction, but we’ll eventually see (hopefully!) small, discrete head-mounted displays and other new methods of interacting with a computing-enhanced and more contextually aware view of the real-world around us. –USA Today

Quiz: Discrete vs. Discreet

Instructions: Fill in the blank with the correct word, either discrete or discreet.

  • She placed the bribe in her wallet in a very _______________ way.
  • Roger is always gossiping. You can never trust him to be ______________.
  • You keep messing up because you’re trying to do all the movements as one continuous motion. It’s easier to break it into steps. You should try to do these __________________ steps.

See answers below.

Article Summary

Should I use discreet or discrete? Although these words differ only slightly in spelling and have the same pronunciation, they have totally different meanings.

  • Discreet means to be good at keeping private matters private, or to be tactful or unobtrusive.
  • Discrete refers to items which are separate from one another.

Interestingly, these two words share a common Latin root. Despite this, nowadays their meanings cannot be interchanged.

Answers from Quiz

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