I would appreciate any clarifications regarding the correct usage of "early" vs "preliminary" in these two sentences.

This study provide an early evidence about life on Mars.
This study provide preliminary evidence about life on Mars

For instance, does early vs preliminary change the meaning? which one is more accurate to explain the meaning, or they both have the same?

When I opened my dictionary to check the difference in meaning between early and preliminary, I found "early" is largely referring to a time frame (e.g. I got in the early morning, she is in her early thirties). On the other hand, 'preliminary" usage has nothing to do with time. It is a word used to explain position (i.e. something come before something else). It was explained in the dictionary as "something that precedes or is introductory or preparatory" so it refers to something not sometime.

What confused me is that these two words were used in the literature to refer to a timing frame. I am not sure about the correct usage in my examples above?!


1 Answer 1


I think that the learner's dictionary definitions for "preliminary" are a little too simple for the context of your sentence. Let's start with these definitions of "early" and "preliminary":

Early : in the first part of a period of time, event, or process

Preliminary : coming before a more important action or event, esp. introducing or preparing for it

Both of those definitions have a part about when something is happening, but the "preliminary" definition also talks about "introducing or preparing for something".

Your examples should use "provides" instead of "provide" because "this study" is singular, we wouldn't normally use an indefinite article with "evidence" because it's uncountable, and we usually say "evidence of" instead of "evidence about". I'm going to fix those issues in the examples below so that we can focus on "early" and "preliminary".

This study provides early evidence of life on Mars.

In this sentence, "early" means that the evidence provided by this study is some of the first evidence ever provided. Because it is the first and unconfirmed by other studies, there is a sense that it may not be very reliable until there is more evidence that confirms what the "early" evidence indicated.

Your second example emphasizes that the evidence is just part of more evidence that will come later:

This study provides preliminary evidence of life on Mars.

"Preliminary" in this sense means that the study is not as definitive or complete as the studies that will come later. The results will help us prepare for more thorough research. It is very similar to "early evidence" in that we have some doubts about how reliable it is, but it has more of a sense of being the first step toward something more precise or reliable.


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