In my earlier 20s, I had a quite obsessive and controlling relationship with food and exercise

The sentence is from the BBC

"In my earlier 20s" does not sound right to me. I often hear similar expressions "in early 1800s, in his early 50s, etc.". So I am well aware that "in my early 20s" is correct.

Is "in my earlier 20s" also correct?

  • 3
    She looks to be in her twenties still. So, earlier is OK here. earlier/later twenties, mid-twenties/
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 18:50
  • 2
    It's kinda joking in tone. Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 20:52
  • 1
    Note that it would be "in the early 1800s".
    – psmears
    Commented Jan 25, 2022 at 10:48
  • Straying off-topic, "in early 1800" (note a specific year, not referring to the century as a whole) would refer to one of the earlier months in that year (probably no later than April).
    – chepner
    Commented Jan 25, 2022 at 16:23

2 Answers 2


"In my early twenties" is a common, idiomatic expression and refers to the early part of your twenties, as a whole.

But I see nothing wrong with "in my earlier twenties" in contexts such as:

  • A person currently in their "early" twenties, speaking about the even earlier years (eg they are 23 and speaking about when they were 21).
  • A person who has already spoken about some part of their twenties, and then is proceeding to talk about an even earlier stage.

"Earlier" is comparative, so as long as it is being compared to something else, it is fine.

  • 2
    Even someone in their late twenties could still sensibly say “in my earlier twenties”. Someone in their early twenties could sensibly say “in my even earlier twenties”. Commented Jan 25, 2022 at 11:32

I think most folks would say "earlier in my twenties" rather than "in my earlier twenties."

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