These two words are homophones, which mean that they sound the same. Although they both derive from the same root, from the Latin ‘discretus’, meaning ‘separate’ or ‘put apart’, they have completely different meanings. They are commonly mistaken; so read on to check that you have made the correct word choice!
Word Choice: Discrete
‘Discrete’ is an uncommonly used adjective meaning ‘a separate entity’. It is most often used in technical scientific fields, for example in the sentence:
‘If we examine the plant material, we can see several discrete layers’.
It can also be used in a mathematical context, and describes methods that use algebra and arithmetic, but not calculus, or other more complicated functions.
Word Choice: Discreet
‘Discreet’ is a much more commonly used adjective and means ‘to be careful and restrained in one’s actions’. You could use it in the following ways:
‘To avoid causing embarrassment when meeting new guests, it is important to be discreet.
The noun form is ‘discretion’, as in:
‘We are always sure to treat our customers’ business with complete discretion’.
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