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[ur-lee] /ˈɜr li/
adverb, earlier, earliest.
in or during the first part of a period of time, a course of action, a series of events, etc.:
early in the year.
in the early part of the morning:
to get up early.
before the usual or appointed time; ahead of time:
They came early and found their hosts still dressing.
far back in time:
The Greeks early learned to sail and navigate.
adjective, earlier, earliest.
occurring in the first part of a period of time, a course of action, a series of events, etc.:
an early hour of the day.
occurring before the usual or appointed time:
an early dinner.
belonging to a period far back in time:
early French architecture.
occurring in the near future:
I look forward to an early reply.
(of a fruit or vegetable) appearing or maturing before most others of its type:
early apples.
noun, plural earlies.
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 forms
earliness, noun
5. initial. 6. beforehand, premature. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for earlier
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The sight of the young artist's note recalled her earlier subject.

    The Market-Place Harold Frederic
  • "You ought to have spoken of it earlier in the day," he went on slowly.

    Rico and Wiseli Johanna Spyri
  • It will be seen that in this act we have lost all connection with the earlier drama.

    The Perfect Wagnerite George Bernard Shaw
  • He thought of what Mrs. Bothwell had said earlier in the day.

    The Foolish Lovers St. John G. Ervine
  • What you earlier described as the chamber being an enclosed chamber, is that it?

    Warren Commission (7 of 26): Hearings Vol. VII (of 15) The President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy
British Dictionary definitions for earlier


adjective -lier, -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 sequence: I was talking to him earlier
Derived Forms
earliness, noun
Word Origin
Old English ǣrlīce, from ǣrere + -līce-ly²; related to Old Norse arliga
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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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
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Idioms and Phrases with earlier
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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