Discreet and Discrete

Two commonly confused words that I come across when proofreading or copyediting are discreet and discrete. While these homophones share a common origin and the spellings differ only in the order of the final two letters, there is a distinct difference between the meanings of the words. Discreet means “prudent, modest, or unobtrusive” and predominately refers to behavior. Discrete means “distinct, unconnected, or finite” and emphasizes the distinctness of something.
  • Robert was discreet about his problems.
  • There are four discrete walls in the room.
  • I discreetly handed him the money.
  • Break up the project into discrete parts.
  • All of Tim’s business dealings were discreet.