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Party A is playing computer games during work hours.

Party B approaches and says:

"Isn't it too soon to be playing?"

The intended meaning being that since it is still during work hours, party A should be working instead, or at least should not be playing games already.

In this context, is the usage of "too soon" correct or would the usage of "too early" be the appropriate one?

Would someone be able to explain the theory behind the usage of both expressions in clear terms?

From my understanding, too soon implies the event it is related to has already passed.

Google results are not explicit enough to be able to convince either party.

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If it's too early to do something, that means the proposed activity normally / should take place later within the contextually relevant time-frame. That's later in the day for OP's exact example, but I might say it's too early [in the year] to be planting flowers in your garden right now, for example.

On the other hand, too soon normally means not enough time has elapsed since some contextually relevant earlier event. No matter what time of day you make your move, it might be too soon to start chatting up that woman whose boyfriend died only last week.

There's some degree of "interchangeability" between the two usages. In particular, it's not at all unusual to use too early for the second meaning above. But those are the most common implications (so most native speakers would use too early in OP's context).

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    So, to be perfectly clear, in this case one should use too early, since the proposed activity is playing and the time-frame is still being work-hours? Feb 27 at 15:30
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    Yes. Most native speakers would use too early for your context, because too soon is only usually used in contexts where it's "unsuitable" to do something because of some earlier event (that happened too recently, so you should wait for more time to elapse before starting the proposed activity). There is no "earlier event" relevant to playing games during working hours. You just have to watch out for the counter-intuitive fact that too soon requires a contextually relevant earlier event, but too early normally has nothing to do with earlier events. Feb 27 at 15:52
  • @AspectofPie: Yes, I would say "too early" in your case. It would have taken me some more thinking to explain exactly why "too soon" would sound wrong, if FumbleFingers hadn't come up with this clear explanation of the subtle difference. It's one of those things that native speakers just do without having to think about why. :/ Mar 1 at 8:09
  • Native English speakers would likely say 'isn't it a bit early to be playing computer games?' the 'a bit' is in fact, sarcastic - especially if it's 9am and games are not allowed til 6pm. The 'a bit' is kind of humourous and actually, what it means is: 'isnt it extremely early to be playing computer games?' But we'd never say that, as it would seem rude.
    – Jelila
    Mar 4 at 23:59
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    Yes, you're on the right track there, I think! (Meaning, in English, 'I completely agree with you!') Didn't know you were British!
    – Jelila
    Mar 6 at 3:00
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In my understanding

  • "too soon" reffers to something happen at predictable time, but with not enought time left to fully prepare for it
  • "too early" reffers to something happen before predicted time, and it does not matter, if one is or is not prepared for it

Example:

My friends came every year to my birthday celebration at early evening. We have big dinner and lot of fun.

  • I have no food at home, I overslept, it is late afternoon and I will not be able to do all shopping and cooking in time.
    • They will come too soon and I will have no dinner ready for them.
  • It is morning and they called, that they are in the town already.
    • They will be here too early, so we will go for lunch to local pizza.
    • They will be here too early, but I have lot of food here, so we will start with lunch this year.

So I would expect party B to ask "Isn't it too early to be playing?" (You are not supposed to play before closing hour.)

Or to say something like "The deadline is too soon to waste time with playing games at work." (There is not enought free time left for playing.)

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  • "too soon" can also get used in contexts like "you have awakened me too soon". (e.g. in a famous line from World of Warcraft). So the opposite of "with not enough time left to prepare". Instead in the sense of "kicking things off before I finished preparing", or "before (some other reason it would have been good to wait)". Mar 1 at 8:06
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  • "Soon" refers to a near coming time from the present point in time.

  • "Early" refers to a point in time near to the beginning of a given
    period or range BUT it can also adopt the same meaning as "soon"
    whereas "soon" wouldn't normally or shouldn't be used this way.

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    Re: "'Soon' refers to a near coming time from the present point in time": Not necessarily the present point in time, but rather, some contextually indicated point in time, which is often but not always the present. Consider "She said she'd be back soon", or "Once I've turned in the form, how soon can I expect to hear back?".
    – ruakh
    Feb 28 at 9:17
  • @ruakh: Or just He soon fell asleep, where "soon" just means a short while after the contextually-relevant time in the past (immediately before he fell asleep). Mar 6 at 12:32

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