Definition of early in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈərlē/

adjective (earlier, earliest)

1Happening or done before the usual or expected time: we ate an early lunch
More example sentences
  • Twenty-five pensioners enjoyed a free lunch as an early Christmas present from their local pub.
  • Just to really stoke things up, we arrived at Lyneham to find that we'd been booked an early lunch in the canteen.
  • Monday was an early lunch of homemade mince pie, chips and veg at Via Veneto.
untimely, premature, unseasonable, before time
prompt, timely, quick, speedy, rapid, fast
1.1(Of a plant or crop) flowering or ripening before other varieties: early potatoes
More example sentences
  • However, for early crops in the south of the country, disease outbreak can be much earlier.
  • Two types of monad pollen are present in early orchids, namely that with pollenkitt and that with elastoviscin.
  • Many of the early maturing varieties are best when ripened under relatively cool conditions.
2Happening, belonging to, or done near the beginning of a particular time or period: an early goal secured victory
More example sentences
  • It was early morning and he had been parking his van near a site where he was working as a labourer, when he and a co-worker saw the fire.
  • It was early in the morning and the sun was just beginning to show its lovely face from the horizon.
  • The early goal in that second period helped lift us, gave us something to hold on to, and from then on we played well.
advance, forward;
initial, preliminary, first;
pilot, trial
2.1Done or occurring near the beginning of the day: we agreed to meet at 6 a.m. to get an early start
More example sentences
  • I congratulate all those MPs who have had the courage of their convictions in signing up to this early day motion.
  • She returned to bed but called an ambulance in the early hours of the next day when she heard that her husband had stopped snoring.
  • Richard's uncle Mel Taylor, who runs the Blue Pits Inn, Manchester Road, Castleton, stayed up until the early hours of Monday morning to share his success.
2.2Denoting or belonging to the beginning or opening stages of a historical period, cultural movement, or sphere of activity: early Impressionism
More example sentences
  • The Islamic expansion of the early medieval period was not waged for glory, or any of the other factors I listed at the top of this op.
  • As we get into the post-Roman / early medieval period we have a series of bows from Denmark and Germany.
  • During the early post-war period, however, there was a marked turn towards a more analytical style.
primitive, ancient, prehistoric, primeval
literary of yore
2.3Occurring at the beginning of a sequence: the earlier chapters of the book
More example sentences
  • This early sequence, without a trace of dignity or sensitivity, sets the tone for the entire film.
  • The early chapters are strong on narrative and pace but the ending sort of fades.
  • A penniless writer used to sit here all day, writing the early draft chapters of her now famous novel.


1Before the usual or expected time: I was planning to finish work early today
More example sentences
  • People are advised to book tickets early as it is expected that the show will sell out very quickly.
  • Today I left work early to watch them play their deadly rivals St Hugo's at home and caught the second half.
  • Today we woke up early and decided to see as much of the city as we could on foot.
in the early morning;
at dawn, at daybreak, at first light
before the usual time;
prematurely, too soon, ahead of time, ahead of schedule
literary betimes
2Near the beginning of a particular time or period: we lost a couple of games early in the season
More example sentences
  • Chelsea had a good period early in the second half, but we weathered that and came back at them.
  • They are now gearing up to host India for another three Tests and five one-day games early next year.
  • Hudson should be inserted early in the game because he's often hot right out of the chute.
2.1Near the beginning of the day: I wrote this piece early one morning
More example sentences
  • In Beijing the announcement was put out early on the morning of the 30th.
  • The Israel Defence Force (IDF) said it had been responding to rocket fire early yesterday.
  • Although not a morning person whatsoever Ari forced herself out of bed early every morning so she could start to get ready.
2.2 (earlier) Before the present time or before the time one is referring to: you met my husband earlier
More example sentences
  • The theme of the film almost echoed the stories depicted earlier on stage and was not a remarkable hit.
  • Claire had been arrested and bailed earlier on the day of her death for a previous criminal damage offence on a bus stop in Bolton.



at the earliest

Not before the time or date specified: the table won’t be delivered until next week at the earliest
More example sentences
  • He is not expected to make a decision on the appeal until September at the earliest.
  • Those in attendance demanded the council extend the consultation period until the end of October at the earliest.
  • Building work is unlikely to start before September at the earliest.

early bird

humorous A person who rises, arrives, or acts before the usual or expected time.
Example sentences
  • ‘Ahhh… the early bird finally arrives,’ her mother said, sarcasm dripping in her voice.
  • She's always an early bird, always, that wife of mine.
  • On the deluge of music albums, the early bird on the Indipop horizon says: ‘The more the number, the bigger is the competition.’

an early grave

A premature or untimely death: he worked himself into an early grave
More example sentences
  • I was tired of losing those I cared about most to an early grave, I was tired of hearing about death upon death upon death.
  • The fight or flight emotions we originally felt, are today replaced with many other emotions that injure our immune systems and put us in an early grave.
  • The early death of the poet's brother haunts the book, and there is an elegy for him, and more than one portrait of him as a delinquent headed for an early grave.

the early hours

The time after midnight and before dawn.
Example sentences
  • You were expected to party until the early hours and then be up first thing in the morning to sort out any problems.
  • The seaside town was more than 70 miles away and they did not arrive until the early hours.
  • They complained of noise nuisance until the early hours of the morning and of litter.

an early night

An occasion when someone goes to bed before the usual time.
Example sentences
  • Monday it gets a little worse but I shrug it off, have an early dinner and an early night.
  • I was going to have an early night but just before we retired Linda switched the kitchen light on and blew the lighting fuse.
  • Right, I'm just about unpacked now, so it's an early night for me, after which I'll only have to write the odd 4,000 words tomorrow to get back on track.

early (or earlier) on

At an early (or earlier) stage in a particular time or period: they discovered early on that the published data were wrong
More example sentences
  • It was then that he remembered her as the girl who had asked Nick a question earlier on at the main stage.
  • Craig ran with his brother Mark early on before pressing on to try to get into the medal places.
  • For better or for worse, they discovered their unique sound early on and have stuck with it.



Pronunciation: /ˈərlēnəs/
Example sentences
  • Part of the excitement was the earliness of the departure.
  • I didn't sleep a wink last night for thinking about everything, hence the unearthly earliness of these posts.
  • This variety is touted for earliness, flavor and its manageable 6-to 7-pound size with harvest about 58 days from transplants, 79 days from seed.


Old English (as an adverb) ǣrlīce (see ere, -ly2), influenced by Old Norse árliga. The adjective use dates from Middle English.

  • The word early, like late, is from Old English, and is found in many idioms and proverbs. The early bird gets the worm is first recorded in 1636, and early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise goes as far back as 1496. Early doors, meaning early on in a game or contest, has become a cliché of sports reporting, but originally referred to admission to a music hall some time before the start of the performance, which was more expensive but gave you a wider choice of seating. The first record of its use is from 1883. The practice died out in the 1950s but the phrase was resurrected in footballing circles in the 1970s in its current sense, with the legendary English football manager Brian Clough (1935–2004) providing the first recorded example.

Words that rhyme with early

Burghley, Burley, burly, curly, girlie, hurley, hurly-burly, pearly, Shirley, surly, swirly, twirly

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: ear·ly

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.