[ dih-skreet ]
/ dɪˈskrit /


judicious in one's conduct or speech, especially with regard to respecting privacy or maintaining silence about something of a delicate nature; prudent; circumspect.
showing prudence and circumspection; decorous: a discreet silence.
modestly unobtrusive; unostentatious: a discreet, finely wrought gold necklace.

Origin of discreet

1325–75; Middle English discret < Anglo-French, Old French < Medieval Latin discrētus, Latin: separated (past participle of discernere; see discern), equivalent to dis- dis-1 + crē- separate, distinguish (variant stem of cernere) + -tus past participle suffix

Related forms

Can be confused

discreet discrete

Synonym study

1. See careful.

Word story

Discreet, meaning “judicious, prudent, modest,” comes partly from Middle French discret “prudent, discerning,” used in Anglo-French in the sense “wise person.” The Latin source was discrētus, past participle of the verb discernere “to separate, distinguish, mark off, show differences between.” In Late Latin discrētus also acquired the sense “prudent, wise,” possibly arising from association with the noun discrētiō, which shows a similar semantic development: physical separation to discernment to capacity to discern.
Discrete, “apart or detached from others; separate; distinct,” was originally a spelling doublet of discreet, sharing meanings and both deriving from the same Latin source. The spelling discrete is closer in form to Latin discrētus and is probably an attempt to differentiate discreet from discrete.
The Middle English Dictionary has two senses at the headword discrēt(e): the sense “wise, morally discerning, prudent, circumspect” has 29 citations; the sense “separate, distinct” has four (in angelology, astronomy, and mathematics).
It wasn’t until the late 16th century that discrete became restricted to its present meanings, leaving the spelling discreet to predominate in its own current uses.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for discreet

British Dictionary definitions for discreet


/ (dɪˈskriːt) /


careful to avoid social embarrassment or distress, esp by keeping confidences secret; tactful

Derived Forms

discreetly, adverbdiscreetness, noun

Word Origin for discreet

C14: from Old French discret, from Medieval Latin discrētus, from Latin discernere to discern


Avoid confusion with discrete
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012