'Discreet' vs 'Discrete': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on July 13, 2023

‘Discreet’ vs ‘Discrete’: What’s the Difference? While it may look like a simple spelling error, these are actually two very different words with very different meanings. In this article, you’ll see how vocabulary from the same origin can evolve differently, and by the end you’ll be able to add both new words to your repertoire. 

In a rush? Here’s a preview of what’s to come: 

  • ‘Discreet’ is a term meaning to be subtle and careful. 
  • Meanwhile, ‘Discrete’ means something distinct or separate. 

What’s the Difference Between ‘Discreet’ vs ‘Discrete’?

These words present a classic English challenge: the smallest adjustment represents a seemingly major change. In this case, you’ll need to be mindful of where you put the “E’s” in each of these new words. 

‘Discreet’ and ‘Discrete’ are interesting because they both evolved from the Latin word ‘discretus,’ which means “separate.” This is helpful not only in knowing the origin of the words but in knowing that it is still the definition of one form…But which one? 

  • ‘Discrete’ spelled with an “e” after the “t” follows its Latin root most directly and still means separate. 
  • Meanwhile, ‘Discreet’ has taken on a new meaning as it was influenced by the French after the Latin, so it took on aspects of the French word ‘discret’ meaning “discern.”

Knowing the roots of words can be helpful in both telling them apart and seeing where they’re related to both each other and other words. But, knowing the history is only half the battle in learning the difference.

Let’s take a more detailed look at these new words. 

Definition of ‘Discreet’: What Does it Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Discreet’ is an adjective that means: 

  • Careful and circumspect in one's speech or actions, especially in order to avoid causing offense or to gain an advantage
  • Intentionally unobtrusive

A trick to remembering this meaning might also be to remember the word ‘discretion,’ which means to act or speak in a way that avoids being offensive or revealing. 

Synonyms of ‘Discreet’

  • Careful
  • Considerate
  • Prudent
  • Tactful
  • Unobtrusive
  • Cautious
  • Sensible
  • Thoughtful 
  • Prudent
  • Restrained

Antonyms of ‘Discreet’

  • Careless
  • Inattentive
  • Inconsiderate
  • Negligent
  • Foolish
  • Reckless
  • Heedless
  • Stupid

Phrases with ‘Discreet’

  • Be discreet
  • Discreetly 
  • Discreet silence

Definition of ‘Discrete’: What Does it Mean? 

Not to be confused with its cousin, according to Oxford Languages, ‘Discrete’ is an adjective that means: 

  • Individually separate and distinct
  • Unconnected and not the same

If you want a tip, remember that the two new words you’re learning here are ‘Discrete’ — they are separate and different from each other. You can also use the position of the “E’s” as a hint too, given that they are separated by the “t” in between them.

Synonyms of ‘Discrete’

  • Disconnected
  • Distinct
  • Detached
  • Unattached
  • Various
  • Different

Antonyms of ‘Discrete’

  • Connected
  • Similar
  • Attached
  • Combined
  • Joined
  • Related

Phrases with ‘Discrete’

  • Discrete lines
  • Discrete proportion
  • Discrete math

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce ‘Discreet’ vs ‘Discrete’

Given that these words sound exactly the same, they won’t be hard to learn when it comes to how to say them. However, this poses the challenge of knowing which one you’re using and when, which will, of course, rely on and depend on context. Either way, you’ll be stuck in conversation if you don’t know how to say the words correctly, so let’s learn how to. 

Use this phonetic spelling of both ‘Discreet’ and ‘Discrete’ as a guide: 

  • ‘Dis-kree-t’ (notice the pronunciation is almost identical to the spelling)

How to Use ‘Discreet’ vs ‘Discrete’ in a Sentence

Knowing that the position of one letter in each of these new words is the difference between two entirely different meanings, it’s important to pay attention to spelling. The spelling, of course, also influences context.

Here are some example sentences to read over to help keep the two separate (or ‘Discrete’).


  • She wanted to be discreet about revealing her plans not to ruin the surprise party.
  • His flirting was not very discreet, and all his friends cringed at how obvious he was
  • They found a discreet corner of the library to do their group study so they wouldn’t bother anyone in the quiet section.
  • She tried to be discreet when entering the class late to avoid disturbing the teacher’s lesson. 
  • He had discreetly placed the wedding ring atop her dessert so it would surprise her when he served it.


  • Discrete mathematics studies things that are not continuous, like variables and graphs. 
  • She was given discrete instructions not to attend today’s meeting with everyone else. 
  • The symphony played four discrete movements within the same body of musical work. 
  • He had to complete a discrete assignment along with the ones the class was all assigned. 

Final Advice on ‘Discreet’ vs ‘Discrete’

In this article, you’ve covered not only definitions and synonyms but also historical context, and you’ve seen how a little letter switch can change the whole trajectory of a sentence and its meaning. A huge part of language is attention to detail, and this is one of those instances where that really pays off. 

Here’s a short recap of the new words we covered: 

  • ‘Discreet’ is an adjective that means careful and unobtrusive and describes something that is purposefully meant to be non-offensive. 
  • Meanwhile, ‘Discrete’ more closely follows its Latin roots and means separate or distinct,
  • And you can use the fact that the “t” separates the two “E’s” as a helpful hint and reminder. 

It can be discouraging to tackle new words that are so similar in looks but different in meaning, but in the long run, they’re a great way to expand your knowledge and vocabulary. Be sure to read up on other confusing words with similar problems to help prepare you to use your new words in any and every context. 

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Written By:
Katie Moore
Katie is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she worked as a writer and editor for the school paper while studying linguistics and journalism. She loves helping others find their voice in writing and making their work the strongest it can be. Katie also loves learning and speaking other languages and wants to help make writing accessible for everyone.

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