Yesterday a friend asked for feedback on the resume she had just written. In her resume, she mentioned a job in which she had provided "discrete, confidential secretarial support."
But discrete means "separate, distinct." My friend wanted the word discreet, which means "prudent; showing prudence and self-restraint."
Here is an easy way to choose the correct homonym:
When the e's are separate, the word means "separate." When the e's are together, the subject described "has it together," which is a slang way of saying the subject is prudent.
Test yourself by filling in these blanks with the correct form, discrete or discreet:
1. There are two ___________ steps in the process.
2. Please be ____________ when you discuss Carl's situation.
3. He was very __________ when he spoke about his previous employer.
4. Our department is a ____________ unit in the editorial division.
Were the correct answers obvious? Mine are (1) ete, (2) eet, (3) eet, (4) ete.
If you are sighing and wondering why you were not aware of the two discrete/discreet forms, it's time to buy or borrow a reference book. Be sure you are not mistaking other word pairs such as complement/compliment, principal/principle (many people use principle incorrectly), and peak/peek/pique. (You pique someone's interest.)
Which word pairs have you mastered in the past few years? Which do you wish others understood? Please share your secrets.