Discrete vs. Discreet – How to Distinguish Them

18.07.23 Commonly confused words Time to read: 4min

How do you like this article?

0 Reviews


Discrete-vs.-Discreet-01

In academic writing, you might come across a number of commonly confused words. When writing an academic paper, these phrases can impact the quality of it. It is necessary to have clear and precise language to convey arguments effectively. The words “discrete” and “discreet” are often a source of confusion for students because their pronunciation and spelling are quite similar. The different meanings of the words “discrete” vs. “discreet” will be illustrated in the following.

Definition of “discrete vs. discreet”

Although “discrete” and “discreet” sound the same when spoken, they have a different meaning and spelling. They represent some of the most often confused words in academic writing because of their pronunciation.

Discrete

… is an adjective and is often used in the context of individual items or parts.

Discreet

… is an adjective and describes a person or action that is careful.

The key to differentiating the two words is paying attention to the context. They both sound the same but have different meanings (homophones). While discrete refers to something distinct or separate, discreet refers to an action or person that is careful or quiet to avoid attention.

Using the word “discrete”

The word “discrete” is used as an adjective and takes on a variety of meanings. These will be outlined in the following with examples.

“Discrete” as an adjective

The word “discrete” is used to describe something being distinct or individually separate and distinct in addition. It is most often used in a mathematical/scientific context.

Examples

  • He owns four discrete businesses.
  • The box contained discrete parts.
  • We have three discrete problems to discuss.

Tip for using “discrete” correctly

Substituting the adjective “discrete” with other adjectives that have the same meaning may be a useful way to cheque if you are using it correctly. Synonyms for discrete are “separate”, “distinct”, “individual”, or “detached”.

Examples

Synonyms Example
Separate The two companies operate as discrete entities.
The two companies operate as separate entities.
Distinct She has her own discrete style of singing.
She has her own distinct style of singing.
Individual Each discrete piece of the puzzle is unique.
Each individual piece of the puzzle is unique.
Detached Each apartment in the complex is a discrete unit with its own entrance.
Each apartment in the complex is a detached unit with its own entrance.

Using the word “discreet”

The word “discreet” can be used in different ways depending on the context, as outlined in the following.

“Discreet” as an adjective

The word “discreet” is used to describe something or somaeone that is careful, especially in speech or behaviour. It is also used to describe a kind of secrecy or refinement.

Examples

  • He was very discreet about his plans.
  • She made a discreet exit from the wedding.
  • They kept their relationship discreet.

Tip for using “discreet” correctly

Substituting the adjective “discreet” with other adjectives that have the same meaning may be a useful way to cheque if you are using it correctly. Synonyms for discreet are “tactful”, “prudent”, “circumspect”, or “cautious”.

Examples

Synonyms Example
Tactful She was discreet in her approach to the sensitive issue.
She was tactful in her approach to the sensitive issue.
Prudent He made a discreet decision to not discuss his personal life at work.
He made a prudent decision to not discuss his personal life at work.
Circumspect The diplomat was discreet in his responses to the media.
The diplomat was circumspect in his responses to the media.
Cautious She was discreet about revealing her new plans to her team.
She was cautious about revealing her new plans to her team.

Test yourself!

Practice sheet

Test your understanding of distinguishing “discrete” from “discreet” by filling in the blank spaces in the 10 sentences. You can then find the correct answers in the second tab to cheque if you grasped the right understanding.

  1. The biologist identified several ______ species within the same genus.
  2. The two theories address ______ phenomena and should not be conflated.
  3. We need to be ______ about discussing the company’s financial situation.
  4. The box contained several ______ parts that needed to be assembled.
  5. The spy was ______ in his actions to avoid attracting attention.
  6. He was ______ about his plans to propose, so it was a surprise to everyone.
  7. Each ______ segment of the project was managed by a different team.
  8. She was ______ in handling the delicate situation at work, ensuring no one was offended.
  9. In mathematics, ______ variables can only take on specific, separate values.
  10. The diplomat’s ______ response avoided any potential conflicts.
  1. The biologist identified several discrete species within the same genus.
  2. The two theories address discrete phenomena and should not be conflated.
  3. We need to be discreet about discussing the company’s financial situation.
  4. The box contained several discreet parts that needed to be assembled.
  5. The spy was discreet in his actions to avoid attracting attention.
  6. He was discreet about his plans to propose, so it was a surprise to everyone.
  7. Each discrete segment of the project was managed by a different team.
  8. She was discreet in handling the delicate situation at work, ensuring no one was offended.
  9. In mathematics, discrete variables can only take on specific, separate values.
  10. The diplomat’s discreet response avoided any potential conflicts.

FAQs

The main difference lies in their meanings. “Discrete” refers to something that is distinct or separate, while “discreet” describes something or somaeone being careful or unobtrusive to avoid attracting attention.

No, they cannot be used interchangeably. Even though they sound alike, they have different meanings. “Discrete” is used when referring to separate items or units, whereas “discreet” is used to describe subtle, careful, or tactful actions or behaviours.

For “discrete,” think of the “e” in “discrete” as standing for “each” or “every,” which emphasizes the individual nature of separate things.

For “discreet,” think of the “ee” in “discreet” as standing for “eyes” or “ears.” Being discreet often involves being cautious not to attract unwanted attention or gossip.

Check your final paper for plagiarism
Not properly attributing credit to original sources often causes deductions in marks. Use our online plagiarism checker to reduce the risk of such penalties and correct any potential plagiarized passages. It takes only 10 minutes to submit your paper confidently.