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My Question:

(1) Andy quit his job earlier in July.

(2) Andy quit his job in early July.

What are the differences between (1) and (2)?


My guess:

(1) implies that the speaker can be at any time point (like in August, in December, or even in the next year) after Andy's quitting the job.

(2) implies that the speaker is still in the same month when Andy quit his job.

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23

(1) Andy quit his job earlier in July. - Using 'earlier' requires a comparison. So it is saying he quit at some point in July before a different point in July. This other point would be mentioned either in the same sentence or in a previous one.

(2) Andy quit his job in early July. - "Early July" is a phrase that means 'in the early part of July'. It roughly means the first half or third of the month but this is not fixed. It may vary depending on the speaker's opinions. This sentence is simply saying that in quit in the earlier part of July. It would be unlikely that you would say this in July (instead using something like "Early this month") so it probably said at some point after July but this is not guaranteed.

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  • 14
    regarding #1, the other point could implicitly mean the current date if no other point was mentioned. Dec 4 '20 at 18:58
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    @OwenReynolds: "Frank quit his job toward the end of July this year. Andy quit earlier in July." Dec 4 '20 at 19:28
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    "This other point would be mentioned either in the same sentence or in a previous one." Alternatively, if you're in July now, that can be the reference. Dec 4 '20 at 20:35
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    This might not be needed, but I'd also add/clarify that something happening "earlier in July" does not mean it happened "in early July." If today is July 30 and Andy quit his job on July 20, I can say "he quit his job earlier in July" even though July 20 would not be considered "early July."
    – A N
    Dec 4 '20 at 20:57
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    @AsteroidsWithWings if you're in July now, you'd more likely say "a few weeks ago" or "earlier this month."
    – Kevin Troy
    Dec 4 '20 at 21:16
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No, that's not right.

Sentence 1 implies one of two things: either you are speaking in July, or you have already referenced something that took place later that month.

Sentence 2 has no restrictions on when you are speaking.

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First, the key difference here is that ’earlier’ is a comparative form of the adjective ’early’. Just like superlatives (such as ‘earliest’), comparatives always perform a comparison, but unlike superlatives they must always have a point of reference for comparison (though the point of reference does not need to be in the same sentence).

As far as the actual meanings, I’m going to cover ’early in July’ first because it’s simpler.

‘early in July’ is an adverbial phrase. It specifically states that the verb it’s modifying (in this case ‘quit’) occurred at a point in time near the beginning of the month of July. It makes no statement about the current time, though the use of the simple past tense ‘quit’ indicates that the event has already happened.

‘earlier in July’ is also an adverbial phrase, but the use of a comparative form means that it’s indicating some secondary point of reference. In this case, there is missing context as to what that point of reference is, though normally it would have been in a previous sentence in the same conversation. This is an interesting case also because adding a comma between ‘earlier’ and ‘in July’ actually changes the meaning. As written in your example without a comma, it implies that the point of reference being used for the comparison is also some point in time in the month of July. With a comma though (‘earlier, in July’), it implies that the earlier point in time was in the month of July, but not that the point of reference being compared to was a point in time in the month of July. Just like ‘early in July’ though, the use of the simple past tense ‘quit’ indicates that the event already happened (and indirectly implies that the point in time being used for the comparison is in the past as well, though not as strongly as use of the past perfect tense ‘had quit’ would imply).

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Early in July means sometime like July 1 or 3, or some other early date. Earlier in July means that it is now some time past a certain date in July, and you are referring to it.

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#1 is simply referencing that the event happened "earlier" (than now) with a further clarification of when it did happen (in July).

#2 is referencing the early (vaguely 1st 1/3 or 1/2) part of July.

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Sentence (1) could imply that Andy quit his job before someone else who quit his job, but in the same month. E.g., "Lewis quit his job towards the end of the month, and Andy quit his job earlier in July."

Add a punctuation mark, and the sentence simply means that Andy quit in the past. "Andy quit his job earlier, in July."

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