adj., adv., & n.
—adj. & adv. (earlier, earliest)
1 before the due, usual, or expected time (was early for my appointment; the train arrived early).
2 a not far on in the day or night, or in time (early evening; at the earliest opportunity). b prompt (early payment appreciated; at your earliest convenience).
3 a not far on in a period, development, or process of evolution; being the first stage (Early English architecture; the early Christians; early Spring). b of the distant past (early man). c not far on in a sequence or serial order (the early chapters; appears early in the list).
4 a of childhood, esp. the preschool years (early learning). b (of a piece of writing, music, etc.) immature, youthful (an early work).
5 forward in flowering, ripening, etc. (early peaches).
—n. (pl. -ies) (usu. in pl.) an early fruit or vegetable, esp. potatoes.
Phrases and idioms:
at the earliest (often placed after a specified time) not before (will arrive on Monday at the earliest). early bird colloq. one who arrives, gets up, etc. early. early closing Brit. the shutting of business premises on the afternoon of one particular day of the week. early days early in time for something to happen etc. early grave an untimely or premature death. early hours the very early morning, usu. before dawn. early (or earlier) on at an early (or earlier) stage. early warning advance warning of an imminent (esp. nuclear) attack.
earliness n.
Etymology: orig. as adv., f. OE aeligrlice, arlice (aeligr ERE)

Useful english dictionary. 2012.


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