Discreet vs. Discrete

How to use "discreet" and "discrete" correctly

This is an entry on my list of Common Errors in English Usage. Visit the main page for direct links to additional entries.

If you are careful in your judgment and don’t draw attention to what you’re doing, you are discreet (noun form: discretion):

showed discretion in his decision not to tell others about the matter
FBI agents discreetly kept tabs on the suspect

Things that are separate or distinct from one another are discrete (noun form: discreteness):

discrete entities that should not be treated as if they were the same

One way to remember the difference in both spelling and meaning between these two words is to note that the e’s in discrete are separated by the t.

Related Resources

Common Errors in English Usage: Errors in diction and idiom commonly made by native speakers of English

List of Common Errors in English Usage (PDF): Printable version of the complete list

Common Grammar Errors: A list of common errors in grammar (topics like subject-verb agreement and parallelism) as distinct from usage

List of Common Errors in English Usage: PDF version

© 2006, 2008, and 2019 C. Brantley Collins, Jr.