discrete vs. discreet

Let’s say that your best friend tells you that she’s about to sue her business partner, but she doesn’t want you to tell anyone just yet. Is she asking you to be discrete? Or is she asking you to be discreet? Perhaps she’s even asking you to be discrete or discreet because the two words are interchangeable. (Why does English have to be so complicated?)

Which word describes what she wants you to do? This is your chance to take a guess because we’re about to explain the difference between discrete vs. discreet.

Are discrete vs. discreet different words?

Discrete vs. discreet are derived from the same Latin term (discretus). But don’t let this fool you. They’re still separate words with distinct definitions. Let’s talk about what each of them means.

Discrete

We use discrete when we want to say that different objects or ideas are separate things. For example, because discrete vs. discreet each have their own definition, they’re discrete words. Here’s how you use discrete in a sentence:

  • “The phone is made up of only five discrete parts.”
  • “They used over 500 discrete objects to create the sculpture.”
  • “Max and Lucy came up with four discrete ideas for solving the problem.”

In essence, when you’re thinking about the difference between discrete vs. discreet, remember that you use discrete when you want to talk about separate items or ideas.

Discreet

Okay, so now you’ve got discrete down. But what about discreet? What does it mean?

We use discreet when we want to describe keeping something confidential or unnoticeable. For example, you use it in sentences like these:

  • “We must be discreet during the investigation.”
  • “He needs to be discreet about the deal until it’s been approved.”
  • “Massimo looked into the matter discreetly.”

So when you’re thinking about the difference between discrete vs. discreet, remember that discreet describes keeping something under wraps.

How to remember the difference between discrete vs. discreet

We wish we had a corny mnemonic to help you keep discrete vs. discreet straight. But sadly, we haven’t come across any yet. We can give you this trick, though: Remember how discreet describes hiding something from others? Good. Now notice how the last “e” in discreet is “hidden” inside the rest of the word instead of hanging onto the end of the word like it does in discrete. You can use this parallel to remember that the word with the “hidden” “e” is the same word that describes hiding things from other people.

Summary

Discrete vs. discreet sound the same. But they’re distinct (or discrete!) words with different meanings. Use discrete to describe individual objects or ideas. And use discreet when you’re talking about keeping something hidden from others.

Should you use averse or adverse in this sentence: “She experienced an ______ reaction to the medication”? Find the answer in our blog post on the difference between adverse vs. averse.




“Discrete” vs. “discreet”: What’s the difference?

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