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 formsdis·creet·ly, adverbdis·creet·ness, nouno·ver·dis·creet, adjectiveo·ver·dis·creet·ly, adverbo·ver·dis·creet·ness, nounqua·si-dis·creet, adjectivequa·si-dis·creet·ly, adverb
Can be confuseddiscreet discrete

Synonym study

1. See careful.

Antonyms for discreet

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for discreetly

Contemporary Examples of discreetly

Historical Examples of discreetly

  • Whereupon Bandy-legs discreetly allowed Max to pass him also.

  • Mr. Bentham discreetly ignored the covert threat in Wrayson's words.

    The Avenger

    E. Phillips Oppenheim

  • I questioned when I should once have discreetly inclined the head and held my peace.

    The First Violin

    Jessie Fothergill

  • Since that day she had grumbled about him again, but discreetly, with a certain vagueness.

    A Spirit in Prison

    Robert Hichens

  • But Mathieu, keeping his promise to Constance, discreetly began his researches.


    Emile Zola

British Dictionary definitions for discreetly



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

Word Origin and History for discreetly



mid-14c., "morally discerning, prudent, circumspect," from Old French discret "discreet, sensible, intelligent, wise," from Latin discretus "separated, distinct," in Medieval Latin "discerning, careful," past participle of discernere "distinguish" (see discern). Meaning "separate, distinct" in English is late 14c.

Spellings discrete and nativized discreet co-existed until after c.1600, when discreet became the common word for "careful, prudent," and discrete was maintained in philosophy, medicine, music and other disciplines that remembered Latin and made effort to obey it. Related: Discreetly.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper