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This page has 9 definitions of early in English. Early is an adjective, noun and adverb. Examples of how to use early in a sentence are shown. Also define these 14 related words and terms: time, advance, arrive, before, on time, start, beginning, occur, astronomy, late, shift, usual, soon, and seasonably.

See also: Early



Etymology 1

From Middle English erly, erlich, earlich, from Old English ǣrlīċ (early, adjective), equivalent to ere +‎ -ly.


early (comparative earlier, superlative earliest)

  1. At a time in advance of the usual or expected event.
    at eleven, we went for an early lunch;  she began reading at an early age;  his mother suffered an early death
    • 2013 June 29, “High and wet”, in The Economist, volume 407, number 8842, page 28:
      Floods in northern India, mostly in the small state of Uttarakhand, have wrought disaster on an enormous scale. The early, intense onset of the monsoon on June 14th swelled rivers, washing away roads, bridges, hotels and even whole villages. Rock-filled torrents smashed vehicles and homes, burying victims under rubble and sludge.
  2. Arriving a time before expected; sooner than on time.
    You're early today! I don't usually see you before nine o'clock.
    The early guests sipped their punch and avoided each other's eyes.
  3. Near the start or beginning.
    The play "Two Gentlemen of Verona" is one of Shakespeare's early works.
    Early results showed their winning 245 out of 300 seats in parliament. The main opponent locked up only 31 seats.
    • 1913, Joseph C. Lincoln, chapter 1, in Mr. Pratt's Patients:
      'Twas early June, the new grass was flourishing everywheres, the posies in the yard—peonies and such—in full bloom, the sun was shining, and the water of the bay was blue, with light green streaks where the shoal showed.
    • 2013 July 20, “The attack of the MOOCs”, in The Economist, volume 408, number 8845:
      Dotcom mania was slow in coming to higher education, but now it has the venerable industry firmly in its grip. Since the launch early last year of Udacity and Coursera, two Silicon Valley start-ups offering free education through MOOCs, massive open online courses, the ivory towers of academia have been shaken to their foundations.
  4. Near the start of the day.
    It's too early for this sort of thing. I'm not awake yet.
  5. Having begun to occur; in its early stages.
    early cancer
  6. (astronomy) Of a star or class of stars, hotter than the sun.
    Antonym: late
  • (at a time in advance of the usual): premature
  • (near the start): first
Derived terms


early (plural earlies)

  1. (informal) A shift (scheduled work period) that takes place early in the day.
    • 2007, Paul W. Browning, The Good Guys Wear Blue, page 193:
      On my first day on the watch after leaving the shoplifting squad I paraded on earlies but had completely forgotten to take my ear ring off.
    • Shift definition
      A movement to do something, a beginning. (1 of 21 shift definitions)

Etymology 2

From Middle English erly, orely, arely, erliche, arliche, from Old English ǣrlīċe, ārlīċe (early; early in the morning, adverb), equivalent to ere +‎ -ly. Cognate with Old Norse árliga, árla ( > Danish årle, Swedish arla, Norwegian årle, Faroese árla).


early (comparative earlier, superlative earliest)

  1. At a time before expected; sooner than usual.
    We finished the project an hour sooner than scheduled, so we left early.
    • Usual definition
      Most commonly occurring; typical.
  2. Soon; in good time; seasonably.
    • Soon definition
      Short in length of time from the present. (1 of 3 soon definitions)