As with some of the best things in life, a little goes a long way. So it is with English where, as many learners know, a little change in spelling can have a huge difference in meaning. Fortunately, we know the lay of the land and are happy to help to mind your p’s and q’s.
Discreet / Discrete
Though both of the adjectives are comprised of the exact same letters – and pronounced exactly the same way – these two words are quite different.
Consider their definitions: discreet means “modest, shy” while discrete means “completely separate, distinct.”
Context clues will help you tell which is being used when other people are talking but it might help to remember that the “t” in discrete separates the e’s and, likewise, separates it from discreet.
Die / Dye
As with discreet and discrete, the pronunciation of this pair is the same despite their spelling differences. Aside from sound, however, these two have nothing in common.
Die, a verb, means to lose life or cease to exist. Dye, by contrast, is alternately a noun (meaning color) or a verb (meaning to change or add such color) depending on it is use, and is therefore a far less gloomy word!
To remember the difference just think “’y’ don’t we add a little color to our lives with some dye?”
Dyeing / Dying
The trouble with die and dye does not stop there, though. Because both can be verbs, both can take the –ing suffix. As a result of the rule for adding suffixes to words that end in “ie, though (change the “ie” to “y” as in penny and pennies) these two can look the same if you are not careful. To keep them apart, remember that the “ie” in die does change to “y” but the “ye” in dye is permanent – just like the dye itself!