adverb, ear·li·er, ear·li·est.

adjective, ear·li·er, ear·li·est.

noun, plural ear·lies.

a fruit or vegetable that appears before most others of its type.


    early on, with but little time elapsed; early in the course of a process, project, etc.; early in the game.

Origin of early

before 950; Middle English erlich (adj.), erliche (adv.), Old English ǣrlīc, ǣrlīce, mutated variant of ārlīc, ārlīce, equivalent to ār- early (positive of ǣr ere) + līc(e) -ly
Related formsear·li·ness, noun

Synonyms for early

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

Related Words for earlier

prior, previous, preceding

Examples from the Web for earlier

Contemporary Examples of earlier

Historical Examples of earlier

  • "Paracelsus," so denominated, was one of Robert Browning's earlier poems.

    'Tis Sixty Years Since

    Charles Francis Adams

  • Earlier in the evening there had been a Big Eating at Opata's, and now the men were dancing.

    The Trail Book

    Mary Austin

  • "You ought to have spoken of it earlier in the day," he went on slowly.

    Rico and Wiseli

    Johanna Spyri

  • He thought of what Mrs. Bothwell had said earlier in the day.

    The Foolish Lovers

    St. John G. Ervine

  • Hinde had parted from them earlier that evening than he had intended or they had expected.

    The Foolish Lovers

    St. John G. Ervine

British Dictionary definitions for earlier


adjective -lier or -liest

before the expected or usual time
occurring in or characteristic of the first part of a period or sequence
occurring in or characteristic of a period far back in time
occurring in the near future
at the earliest not before the time or date mentioned
early days too soon to tell how things will turn out

adverb -lier

before the expected or usual time
near the first part of a period or sequenceI was talking to him earlier
Derived Formsearliness, noun

Word Origin for early

Old English ǣrlīce, from ǣr ere + -līce -ly ²; related to Old Norse arliga
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 earlier



Old English ærlic "early," from ær "soon, ere" (see ere) + -lice, adverbial suffix (see -ly (2)). Cf. Old Norse arliga "early." The early bird of the proverb is from 1670s. Related: Earlier; earliest.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with earlier


In addition to the idioms beginning with early

  • early bird catches the worm
  • early on
  • early to bed, early to rise (makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise)

also see:

  • bright and early
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.