from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Of or occurring near the beginning of a given series, period of time, or course of events: in the early morning; scored two runs in the early innings.
  • adj. Of or belonging to a previous or remote period of time: the early inhabitants of the British Isles.
  • adj. Of or belonging to an initial stage of development: an early form of life; an early computer.
  • adj. Occurring, developing, or appearing before the expected or usual time: an early spring; an early retirement.
  • adj. Maturing or developing relatively soon: an early variety of tomato.
  • adj. Occurring in the near future: Observers predicted an early end to the negotiations.
  • adv. Near the beginning of a given series, period of time, or course of events: departed early in the day; scored important victories early in the campaign.
  • adv. At or near the beginning of the morning: She never used to get up so early.
  • adv. At or during a remote or initial period: decided very early to go into medicine.
  • adv. Before the expected or usual time: arrived at the meeting a few minutes early.
  • adv. Soon in relation to others of its kind: a rose that was cultivated to bloom early.
  • idiom early on At an early stage or point: "Early on, [he] found that being honest and being funny were almost the same thing” ( Maureen Orth).

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. At a time in advance of the usual or expected event.
  • adj. Arriving a time before expected; sooner than on-time.
  • adj. Near the start or beginning.
  • adv. At a time before expected; sooner than usual.
  • n. A shift (scheduled work period) that takes place early in the day.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. In advance of the usual or appointed time; in good season; prior in time; among or near the first; -- opposed to late
  • adj. Coming in the first part of a period of time, or among the first of successive acts, events, etc.
  • adv. Soon; in good season; seasonably; betimes.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Near the initial point of some reckoning in time; in or during the first part or period of some division of time, or of some course or procedure: as, come early; early in the day, or in the century; early in his career.
  • Synonyms Early, Soon, Betimes. Early is relative, and notes occurrence before some fixed or usual time, or before the course of time had far advanced beyond that point: as, he rose early (that is, he rose before the usual time of rising, or before the day had advanced far); he came early in the evening (that is, before the evening was far advanced); while in “come early” the meaning may be only “do not be late in your coming, or do not delay your coming beyond the set or accustomed time.” Soon means shortly, or in a short time after the present or some fixed point of time: as, come soon; he left soon after my arrival. Betimes (by time) means in good time for some specific object or all useful purposes: as, he rose betimes.
  • Pertaining to the first part or period of some division of time, or of some course in time; being at or near the beginning of the portion of time indicated or concerned: as, an early hour; early manhood; the early times of the church.
  • Appearing or occurring in advance of, or at or near the beginning of, some appointed, usual, or well-understood date, epoch, season, or event; being before the usual time: as, an early riser; early fruit; early (that is, premature) decay; early marriage.
  • Occurring in the near future: as, I shall take an early opportunity of calling on you; the petitioners asked that a meeting be called at an early date.
  • In embryology, very young; very recently formed: as, an early embryo.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adv. before the usual time or the time expected
  • adj. of an early stage in the development of a language or literature
  • adv. in good time
  • adj. belonging to the distant past
  • adj. being or occurring at an early stage of development
  • adv. during an early stage
  • adj. very young
  • adj. at or near the beginning of a period of time or course of events or before the usual or expected time
  • adj. expected in the near future


Middle English erli, from Old English ǣrlīce : ǣr, before; see ayer- in Indo-European roots + -līce, adv. suff.; see -ly2.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle English erly, erli, Old English ǣrlīce, from ǣr ("before") + adverbial suffix -līce. Cognate with Old Norse árla ( > Danish and Norwegian årle, Swedish arla) (Wiktionary)



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  • You say that. But why should we believe you?

    October 1, 2012

  • I'm trying to be more of an affirmative action fabulist, since I believe that some groups deserve special lying attention.

    October 1, 2012

  • I don't just lie to children about dinosaurs. I'm an equal-opportunity fabulist. I lie to everyone about everything. Or do I ? Mwahahahahaha!!!!
    But why does this page have no mention of Biddy Early , the wise woman of County Clare.

    October 1, 2012

  • I agree--sionnach's definitions are now old enough to be lied to about deinonychus taxonomy. How adorable!

    September 27, 2012

  • ron, that sounds more like Irish to me - was character an immigrant?

    hat tip to sionnach's five year-old adverbial definition.

    September 27, 2012

  • I think early in Australia is also pronounced airly (a corrupted pronounciation?). I found this in Eva Langley's novel The Pea-Pickers (p. 5): "Yes, back in the airly days, I've heard my father speak of the Nils Desperandums of Sarsfield."

    September 24, 2012

  • adj: like, or pertaining to, a member of the aristocracy

    adv: in the manner of an ear

    November 3, 2007