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Commonly Confused:

Discreet versus Discrete

There are times when embarrassment is a good teacher and today’s commonly confused was the one that did me in. For years and years I thought it was spelled “discrete”. Maybe it is my preference for “ete” over “eet” or perhaps it was the connection with the spelling of the word “discretion”, who knows, but I got it all wrong, until I was very publicly exposed for my faux pas. So to keep others from feeling my embarrassment, we are going to discuss the differences between “discreet” and “discrete.”

This is one of those words that is often overlooked by the spell-check in a word processor because both of these are actual words—they just happen to have very different meanings.


According to Merriam-Webster, “discreet” is an adjective with three meanings. They are as follows:

  1. Having or showing discernment or good judgment in conduct and speech; capable of preserving prudent silence. (e.g. You can trust her with your secrets. She is very discreet.)
  2. Unpretentious, modest. (e.g. She wore a discreet frock despite her wealth.)
  3. Unobtrusive, unnoticeable (e.g. Discreet bouquets of flowers dotted the room.)

This word also has the following forms:

Noun: discreetness (e.g. Martha was often praised for her discreetness.)

Adverb: discreetly (e.g. The discreetly placed candles help create a welcoming sense of ambiance.)


According to Merriam-Webster, “discrete” is also an adjective with three meanings. They are as follows:

  1. Constituting a separate entity. (e.g. The room was split in to several discrete areas.)
  2. Consisting of distinct or unconnected elements. (e.g. The shopping center was made up of discrete buildings.)
  3. Taking on or having a finite or countably infinite number of values. (e.g. Solve the problem; name the discrete variables.)

The word also has the following forms:

Noun: discreteness (Tom like the discreteness of the neighborhood.)

Adverb: discretely (She liked the discretely partitioned room.)

Generally when one uses “discrete” what they actually mean is “discreet.” This is a common error that we encounter and one which many make. Hope this has removed some of the mystery between these two commonly confused words.

Now back to writing. 🙂

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