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Discreet and Discrete

Commonly Confused Words

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Discreet and Discrete

A spelling mnemonic for discreet and discrete, created by Bill Brohaugh (Everything You Know About English Is Wrong, 2008)

The adjective discreet means prudently self-restrained or tactful. (The adjective discreet is related to the nouns discretion and discreetness.)

The adjective discrete means distinct or separate. (The adjective discrete is related to the noun discreteness.)

See also:

Also see the usage notes below.

Examples:

  • Invisible hearing aids are becoming an increasingly popular choice for those who want to be discreet about their hearing loss.

  • The average person can hold seven discrete bits of information in his or her head at a time.

Usage Notes:

  • "The words discreet and discrete sound the same, and both derive from Latin discretus 'separate'; but in English they have quite different meanings. Discreet means 'careful to avoid being noticed or giving offence' (we made discreet inquiries). Discrete, on the other hand, means 'separate, distinct' (research tends to focus on discrete areas)."
    (Oxford Thesaurus of English, 3rd ed., edited by Maurice Waite. Oxford University Press, 2009)


  • "When used of people, discreet means 'careful, reliable, and not likely to gossip' (Can we rely on her to be discreet?); when used about actions, it means 'unlikely to attract attention' (We have made a few discreet enquiries). Discrete is a more technical word meaning 'separate' or 'individually distinct': The process can be broken down into a number of discrete stages."
    (Stephen Curtis and Martin Manser, The Penguin Writer's Manual. Penguin, 2002)

Practice:

(a) Electricity is composed of _____ particles of equal size.

(b) To avoid scandal and gossip, we'll have to be very _____.

Answers to Practice Exercises

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

200 Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

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