🤫 Please be discreet

When you have a pair of homophones that have different spellings and meanings, you can sometimes trace these differences back to each word’s origin. (And we won’t even make you rack your brain to think of an example: Look no further than ​rack vs. wrack​.)

But that is not the case with the set of commonly confused, same-sounding words we’re discussing this week: discrete and discreet.

"Discrete" and "discreet" are not interchangeable. "Discrete" means separate: "We decided to combine the entries, so there are not discrete responses for each term." "Discreet" means prudent/showing good judgment or unnoticeable: "He was able to be discreet when leaving."

“Discreet” means showing good judgment or unnoticeable, while “discrete” means separate or distinct.

It’s sort of ironic, then, that “discrete” doesn’t even have its own distinct origin. Both words ​come from​ the Latin word discretus, which covered each of the definitions of “discreet” and “discrete” that we use today.

So how can you remember which one is which? ​Merriam-Webster recommends​ noting the separation of the e’s in “discrete.”

Or you can just ask Stylebot (😉), which has reminders about dozens of commonly confused words and other writing mistakes.

Lay or lie? Affect or effect? If you need reminders about how to use these words, you're not alone! It happens to the best of us, and I'm here to help. Below you can learn more about common writing mistakes. Or, you can ask me something specific.

Which one would you like to see us cover next in this newsletter? Hit reply and let us know.

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