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18 / 12 / 2006

DISCREET vs. DISCRETE: meaning and examples

Good morning. I hope everybody had a good weekend.

This week will be the last week of Daily Vitamins in 2006. We will take a break from December 25th to January 5th. The first Daily Vitamin after the holidays will be Monday, January 8th. If you are a Daily Vitamin Plus! user, the rest of the services (including the online English coach) will still be operative.

Today we answer a question that we received from one of our own students, Silvia:

Hello Matthew, I have problems with this pair of English words: DISCREET and DISCRETE. Maybe there is a former Daily Vitamin about the subject. If not, would you please offer us a new one explaining it? Thanks, Sílvia

Thank you Silvia. We had never talked about these two words before. They are pronounced exactly the same: [dI' skri:t], but have different meanings. They are homophones (they have the same pronunciation, but different spellings and/or meanings).

Discrete means: separate and distinct; independent of other things of the same type.

Example 1:
The company is composed of three discrete units.

Example 2:
The organisms can be divided into discrete categories.

Discreet means: careful in what you say or do, in order to keep something secret or to avoid causing embarrassment or difficulty for somebody. A synonym would be tactful.

Example 3:
My friend Mark is always very discreet about his love affairs.

Example 4:
My wife only likes to wear discreet jewlery. For her birthday I bought her some very discreet earrings made out of white gold.

When speaking, Silvia, there is no problem since the words are pronounced the same. When writing them, you must remember that the word that ends in ETE (discrete) means distinct and the one that ends in EET (discreet) means tactful.

Please post any questions about today's Daily Vitamin in the Daily Vitamin Plus! forum section on our website.

Enjoy your day!

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