Discreet - discrete

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Discreet and discrete are two homophones (the pronunciation of both has the stress on the second syllable 'dis-CREET' IPA: /dɪs 'kriːt/). They have very different meanings, even if there is only a change in the order of two letters.

  • Discreet (means 'being able to keep a secret' or 'careful and wary in one's behaviour'. (There is an associated noun, discretion, pronounced to rhyme with 'session' and 'confession', IPA: /dɪs 'krɛ ʃən/). 'Discreet' can be used to mean something like 'private', 'confidential': it implies that the person we are describing will not tell anyone else about the matter we are talking of. "Tutors should be discreet about their students' errors."
  • Discrete is a scholarly way of saying 'separate' or 'distinct'. Soil may contain discrete remnants of a rock that broke down; statistical data may be discrete or continuous; a politician may have several discrete motives for what he is doing: his action will in the end be a compromise.