Etymology
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early (adv.)

Old English ærlice "early, near the initial point of some reckoning in time," from ær "soon, ere" (see ere) + -lice, adverbial suffix (see -ly (2)). Compare Old Norse arliga "early." The adjective is Old English ærlic. The early bird of the proverb is from 1670s. Related: Earlier; earliest.

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Definitions of early
1
early (adj.)
belonging to the distant past;
the early inhabitants of Europe
Synonyms: former / other
early (adj.)
at or near the beginning of a period of time or course of events or before the usual or expected time;
took early retirement
early diagnosis
early morning
an early warning
an early spring
early varieties of peas and tomatoes mature before most standard varieties
an early death
early (adj.)
being or occurring at an early stage of development;
early forms of life
in an early stage
early man
an early computer
early (adj.)
very young;
at an early age
early (adj.)
of an early stage in the development of a language or literature;
early (adj.)
expected in the near future;
look for an early end to the negotiations
2
early (adv.)
during an early stage;
early on in her career
Synonyms: early on
early (adv.)
before the usual time or the time expected;
she graduated early
Synonyms: ahead of time / too soon
early (adv.)
in good time;
Synonyms: betimes
From wordnet.princeton.edu