1 adjective
1 NEAR THE BEGINNING near to the beginning of a day, year, someone's life etc: We've booked two weeks' holiday in early May. | Her early life was miserably unhappy. | in the early days (=at the beginning of a process, project etc): In the early days we used to work Saturdays as well.
2 BEFORE THE USUAL TIME arriving or happening before the usual or expected time: Hey, you're early! It's only five o'clock! | The rains are early this year. | five minutes early/three hours early etc: The bus was ten minutes early. | an early grave (=dying too soon)
3 NOT TOO LATE near enough to the beginning of a process to prevent something bad from happening: There is far less risk with cancer if it is detected early.
4 FIRST (only before noun) being one of the first people, events, machines etc: Early motor cars had very poor brakes. | early man
5 it's early days spoken used to say that it is too soon to be sure about what the result of something will be: She's having a few problems with the coursework at school but it's early days yet.
6 at/from an early age at or since a time when you were very young: At an early age she decided she wanted to be a surgeon.
7 make an early start to start an activity, journey etc very early in the day because you have a lot to do, far to go etc
8 the early hours the time between midnight and morning: Order was restored in the prison in the early hours of Saturday morning.
9 early night if you have an early night you go to bed earlier than usual: I could really do with an early night!
10 early bird someone who always gets up very early in the morning: Seven? No problem! I'm a real early bird!
11 the early bird catches the worm used to say that someone is successful because they were the first to do something
12 early riser someone who always gets up early in the morning
13 early potatoes/lettuces/avocados etc potatoes etc that are ready to be picked before any others
2 adverb
1 before the usual, arranged, or expected time: I arrived early, to make sure of a seat. | The play ended early so we still had time for a drink.
2 near the beginning of a day, week, or other period of time: Early the following day he phoned to apologize.
3 near the beginning of an event, story, process etc: Early in the film we see Paul's violent temper.
4 early on at an early stage in a relationship, process etc: I realized early on I'd never pass the exam.

Longman dictionary of contemporary English. 2004.

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