Commonly Confused Words: Discreet vs. Discrete

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What does each word mean?

If you are discreet it means you are prudent or unobtrusive with your speech and actions in order to keep something confidential or to avoid embarrassment.

Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word.

Here is discreet used in some example sentences:

  •  He tried to cough discreetly so that he didn’t disturb other library users.
  • The actor tried to be discreet about her personal life.
  • His mother always embarrassed him with her inability to be discreet.

If something is discrete it means it is separate or distinct.

Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word.

Here is discrete used in an example sentence:

  •   The instructions broke down the task into a list of discrete steps.

Where does each word come from?

Both discreet and discrete date back to the late fourteenth century and come from the Latin ‘discretus’ which meant ‘separated, distinct’. In Medieval Latin, ‘discretus’ meant ‘discreet, sensible, intelligent, wise’.

Are there any tricks to help remember the difference between discreet and discrete?

  • The word discrete is usually used in technical or scientific circumstances.
  • Discrete means separate. The two Es in discrete are separated by a T.
  • Discreet is spelt with two Es like the word creep. Think of someone creeping about while trying to be discreet.
  • Think of a discreet person trying to escape embarrassment to help you remember the word is spelt with two Es. 


What words do you constantly mix up? Let us know and we’ll cover them in our Commonly Confused Words series.

Sources: The Online Etymology Dictionary.

02 Apr 2019
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