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As early as can be used to mean at a time that is sooner than people expect.

We may announce the winners as early as tomorrow.

The DRDO announced it as early as in 2011.


But if I say

The DRDO announced it as early as 2011.


Would it be grammatical and also what is the difference between the above two constructions?

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  • By itself, "… as early as 2011…" is fine. You might find someone prepared to explain how "… as early as in… " could be correct and I suspect you'd have to look a very, very long way. "… as early as…" says nothing about expectation, unless it's qualified at least with "… even as early as…" – Robbie Goodwin Jun 17 '20 at 23:52
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"As early as" generally means "no sooner than". It may or may not indicate surprise. It does indicate uncertainty.

The election result may be known as early as 10 pm election night.

This is a statement of predicted fact, it is not particularly surprising. It says that the results will not be known before 10pm, but may be known then, or mat be known at some later time or date. In this usage, the even has not yet happened.

We may announce the winners as early as tomorrow.

The winners will not be announced before tomorrow. They may be announced tomorrow, or on some later day. Presumably the decision has not yet been made when to make the announcement. Or at least the decision is not yet public.

The DRDO announced it as early as 2011

Since this is in the past, the announcement did or did not happen in 2011. This form is used when the speaker's knowledge is incomplete. It is known that the DRDO made the announcement, but not whether it was in 2011 or in a later year. But it is known that it was not in some earlier year.

The DRDO announced it as early as in 2011.

This is awkward and should not be used. "in" here is redundant. "as early as 2011" implies "in 2011" as 2011 designates a period, a year.

X happened as early as T

X is known not to have happened before T, and may have happened as soon as T, or may have happened later than T. T specifies a time, either explicitly or by comparison with some other event. It is at least implied that X did happen.

X will happen as early as T

This is a prediction. X will not happen before T. It may happen at T, or at some later time. It is at least implied that X is expected to happen.

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    This is a very good answer, but there is one exception when "in 2011" might make sense: in the case of an annual event, such as the Nobel Prizes or the Oscars, although with slightly different phrasing. The Academy announced the nominations as early as it had in 2011. – whiskeychief Apr 22 '19 at 10:10
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    @whiskeychief yes, that is a subtly but significantly different form, and one I was not thinking of. In that case "the date of the announcement in 2011" becomes T, and "[when] it had in 2011" becomes a unit. – David Siegel Apr 22 '19 at 15:19
  • I think "it had" is ellipted – Kshitij Singh Apr 23 '19 at 15:28
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    @Kshitij Singh when something is left out, it is said to be "elided", not "ellipted". (the more general term "omitted" can also be used.) Such an elision is sometimes but not always marked with an ellipsis, the symbol using three dots (or in some cases four). From which sentence to you think "it had" was elided? – David Siegel Apr 23 '19 at 15:37
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    @Kshitij Singh I would call that back-formation simply wrong. I predict it will not enter general usage. – David Siegel Apr 23 '19 at 17:09
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We may announce the winners as early as tomorrow.

as early as means that the earliest that something can happen. Here the sentence means that we may announce the winners not earlier than tomorrow. It can be later, but it can't be earlier. The earliest the announcement can occur is tomorrow.

Some more example sentence:

1. If Levandowski had, in fact, been in talks with Uber as early as 2015, it would not have been out of character.
2. According to Queen, he foresaw the Holocaust as early as 1925, when even Hitler hadn't imagined it yet.

Now coming to your next question.

(a) The DRDO announced it as early as in 2011.

(b) The DRDO announced it as early as 2011.

Sentence (b) is the most common, and generally used. Sentence (a) though not grammatically wrong, is very rare and it doesn't sound natural. You would normally hear/see people use sentence (b). There is no difference in meaning.

The meaning : The DRDO announced it in the year 2011, and not before that.

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"As early as in 2011" means that an event happened in 2011, and that the event will happen at the same time as in 2011.

"As early as 2011" means that the earliest an event will happen will be 2011.

Examples:

  • Star Wars will be released as early as in 1977 (Star Wars will be released on the same date in the coming year as it was in 1977)
  • Wonder Woman: 1987 will be released as soon as December 2020 (meaning that the earliest date that Wonder Woman: 1987 will be released is December 2020)
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    • Hi, welcome to ELL! Thanks for the answer! – Eddie Kal Dec 6 '20 at 2:45

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