I wonder what does the phrase "discrete word" mean. I came across this phrase in a context which someone wants advice someone else in a polite way, and the sentence is:

I will have a discrete word.

Probably the speaker means "I will have a discrete word with them"


I feel compelled to correct my spelling after StoneyB's answer. The correct spelling is discreet, not discrete.

Discreet here means using discretion, respecting issues of privacy and decency.

Having a word with someone means having a talk with them.

Having a discreet word with someone usually means you talk to someone in private - you take them apart at the coffee corner, or you move into a meeting room. It indicates the opposite of giving someone a public telling off. It is often considered unkind to criticize someone in public, in front of their friends or colleagues. Having a discreet word with them, you make sure they do get the message,but it is not a public event.


This is an error for discreet, which means

Careful and prudent in one’s speech or actions, especially in order to keep something confidential or to avoid embarrassment. —Oxford Dictionaries Online

To have a discreet word with someone is to have a confidential, private conversation with them.

Discrete is quite different; it means “individually separate and distinct” (ODO). For instance

Be careful you do not confuse the preposition into, compounded, with the collocation in to, composed of two discrete words.

The error is quite common even among native speakers, not only because the spellings are so similar but because the noun derivative of discreet is discretion.

  • I had not even seen the difference, but I managed to spell it correctly once in my answer.
    – oerkelens
    Jun 6 '14 at 11:05
  • 3
    @oerkelens Many people never achieve that. :) Jun 6 '14 at 11:07
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    Actually I quoted the sentence without any change, and the person who wrote that is a native speaker. I googled the phrase and did not get a reasonable meaning, probably the misspelling was one of the reasons of my confusions.
    – K137
    Jun 6 '14 at 13:01

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