discreet vs. discrete vs. discretion  

What is the difference between discreet and discrete?

The adjectives discreet and discrete are both pronounced the same way: /dɪˈskrit/.
Discreet is the more common of the two, meaning “unobtrusive; made, done, or situated so as to attract little or no notice” or “careful to avoid social awkwardness or discomfort, especially by not sharing delicate information.” For example:
  • “I would just ask that you be discreet regarding the ties between your father and this institution.”
  • “We are always discreet with our clients’ personal information.”
  • “They chose a discreet location for their meeting.”
The less common term, discrete, means “separate or distinct from another thing or things” or “consisting of unconnected, separate, and distinct parts,” as in:
  • “To help conceptualize the notion of time, we break it down into discrete units, such as seconds, minutes, and hours.”
  • “Speech is thought of as being discrete, a collection of unique individual sounds that form a system.”
Adding to this confusion is the noun discretion, which looks like it should be derived from the adjective discrete, due to the single E before “-tion.” Discretion, however, actually means “an act or instance of being discreet,” as in:
  • “Your discretion is appreciated while we investigate this issue.”
(The noun form of discrete, on the other hand, is discreteness.)

Spelling Tricks and Tips

Luckily, there is a helpful mnemonic we can use to help remember the appropriate meaning for the two different spellings:
  • Discrete means “separate” or “distinct,” so we must separate the two Es with a T.
  • Discreet usually refers to keeping something “close to your chest,” so the two Es are kept close together.
Quiz

1. Choose the sentence in which discreet is the correct spelling.





2. Choose the sentence in which discrete is the correct spelling.





3. Which of the following words can be made into the noun discretion?



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