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Language Arts

Discreet vs Discrete

Discreet vs Discrete. Using discrete or discreet and be difficult to distinguish. This article has the definition for both discrete and discreet and tips on distinguishing the difference between discreet versus discrete.

Because we have to be completely discreet about this project, I have divided the work into discrete units so that - even inadvertently - no one will be able to let our competition know exactly what our product will be. This pair of easily confused words, with no difference in spelling except a transposed letter and no difference in pronunciation at all, are tough words to differentiate. Read on for some clues about how you might master this tricky pair.


Discreet is an adjective connected with the virtues of prudence, circumspection, modesty, and self-restraint. Here are two examples:

The heiress was anything but a show-off, dressing in a discreet manner and making no ostentatious purchases.

Enrico felt justified in confiding in Dr. Wiggins, who was celebrated not only for her insights into people’s lives and problems, but also for being entirely discreet.

Discreet came into English through Old French. Its roots are in the Latin past participle of the word discernere, meaning “to discern” or “to separate.” Discreet covers a variety of meanings related to the “discern” element of the Latin word’s meaning. It is pronounced /dih SKREET/.


Discrete is an adjective that is used to designate the separateness of something from other things or to identify a particular whole as having distinct, separate-or non-continuous- parts. It also has a particular mathematical meaning in describing a set of values. An example of the standard use is:

The driving exam has several discrete, non-overlapping sections, all of which must be passed in order for you to be awarded a license, Mr. Mantigua.

Like discreet, discrete came into English through Old French and has its origins in the past participle of the Latin discernere, meaning both “to separate” and “to discern.” Discrete covers a variety of meanings related to the “separate” element of the Latin word’s meaning.

You can see now that each of the words in the pair discreet/discrete develops one of the two main meanings of the Latin root from which they both come. The branching of this one Latin word into two English words clarifies why they are so very similar and difficult to distinguish.

Distinguishing Discreet and Discrete

One way to recall the difference between discrete and discreet is to use this mnemonic:

Discrete is about separating into distinct parts: notice how the two e’s are separated. Discreet, on the other hand, is about keeping information contained and under wraps: notice how the e’s are closed up within the boundaries of the word. Keeping this in mind may help you remember which of these words is which.

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