Could you please help me to distinguish the difference between 'soon' and 'early/earlier'. These words are pretty similar to me, I often get confused with their usage, please make it clear with examples.

3 Answers 3


They're pretty interchangeable but I think a good rule of thumb is that "sooner" generally modifies the time it takes to complete a task whereas "earlier" modifies the time of day you expected the task to be completed.

I'm going to answer this question at 1pm. Do you need it earlier?

This may imply that answering the question is a short task, but I'm going to wait until 1pm to do it. Do you want it at an earlier time than that?

I'm going to spend 10 minutes answering this question. Do you need it sooner?

Now I'm implying that I could work faster, to get it to you in less amount of time.

Really you could swap the words and it still works ("Can we do this sooner" = "Can we do this earlier") but "sooner" better addresses the time it takes to do the thing whereas "earlier" better addresses the time on the clock that you expect it to be done.


Soon refers to something that will happen in the near future

He will soon go to college

When is his school finish? A proper way to respond would be: "Soon"

Earlier refers to something that has already happened or the time or the event that has happened.

Does the school finish at 5:00? A proper response would be: No a little earlier.

Another common way to use earlier would be to refer back to the beginning of a time period

Earlier that day...

Earlier in his career...

Early is usually used as an adverb describing to time period of an event

We should get to school early.

You woke up early this morning.

  • Welcome to ELL! That's a pretty good answer, although I would also point out that soon does come up in the context of the past sometimes: He began working hard, and soon he had finished the task. I think "after a short time" is a slightly more precise definition of "soon".
    – stangdon
    Apr 21, 2016 at 11:58

Both words (sooner and earlier) are comparisons between two date/times, but sooner can only refer to the future. This is because with 'earlier' the two dates are relative to each other, whereas sooner compare one date/time with the the time at this moment.

IE in the first example, either earlier or sooner could be used.

Let's arrange to meet next Monday, but you can come sooner/earlier if you like.

In the second example, only earlier could be used:

We arranged to meet yesterday at 11:00 but he arrived earlier at 10:45.

  • "but sooner can only refer to the future." I don't understand how this. If I say "My daughter was born sooner than expected." I'm clearly referring to an event that happened in the past. Can you elaborate?
    – HyperNym
    Jul 13, 2022 at 19:30

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