Friday, January 25

Posted by Laurel Garver on Friday, January 25, 2013 6 comments
It's Friday Phonics time, and today we will be tackling the homophone pair discreet and discrete. Mixing up these two higher-level vocabulary words is something I've seen in both beginner and scholarly, PhD-level writing. Once again, spell check will not help you.

The more commonly used term is the double E version, having to do with secret-keeping. Let's take a look at definitions, visuals, examples and mnemonics to get the words clear in our heads.


© carulmare, Flickr; Rembrandt. 1661. Matthew and the Angel
adj. -- having discernment, prudent, able to keep delicate matters secret; modest and unpretentious; unnoticeable, unobtrusive

adv. -- discreetly
n. -- discreetness, discretion

John trusted her to be discreet about his gambling debts.

Lady Ambrose signaled the Duke by discreetly touching her cheek.

A key rule of medicine is discretion with sensitive patient information.

LEE was so DISCREET, she allowed no man to ever SEE her KNEES.


photo by schurch,
adj. -- separate, individual; having distinct or unconnected elements

adv. -- discretely
n. -- discreteness

The color of the grass makes the Joneses' yard discrete from the Wesleys'.

Detective Nicholson felt there might be two discrete perpetrators, not one.

We kept the areas DISCRETE with CONCRETE that would not SECRETE moisture.
Joe needed to DELETE six DISCRETE lines of INCOMPLETE code.

Test your skills

1. I wish I knew how to make my designs look more _____ from each other.
2. Francesca moved _____ to Philip's side and whispered in his ear.
3. Lady Mary depended on her family to be ____ about the affair with Mr. Pamuk.
4. Dr. McMahon developed three ___ treatment options for the condition.

Do you struggle with keeping these terms discrete? Any others I should cover in the future?

Answers: 1. discrete 2. discreetly 3. discreet 4. discrete.


  1. well, you successfully halted me in my tracks. I did not know about "discrete" and am not sure if I ever have used it. From here on, I will be aware that it exists and is not "discreet."
    I think this is a fine series of posts!

    1. I stumbled across this homophone mixup at work, actually, in a piece written by a college professor. I'll have many more pairs to tackle in my Phonics Friday posts!

  2. Hmm, I uses discreet all the time; but I use "distinct" instead of discrete.



  3. Wow, how cool is this? I never knew there was a word descrete. Although, I can imagine using it and having my crit partners tell me I'm spelling discreet wrong.

    Great job here.

    1. Apparently the two terms have a similar origin. I'd seem the EET version used for the ETE in a professor's submission to the scholarly journal I work on, so clearly this is not the world's most used term. :-D