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“früher” is not “earlier”

Yes, the German word for early is früh and so technically, früher should be the counterpart to earlier. 

And it is in comparisons:

  • Heute gehe ich früher ins Bett als gestern.
  • Today, I’ll go to bed earlier than yesterday.

However, earlier is also used as a general indication of “when”, usually referring to earlier that day.

  • Like I said earlier, this is not a good idea.

But here, the proper word is actually vorhin.

  • Wie ich vorhin gesagt habe, …

And why not früher?
Well, because in such a sentence, früher actually means back in the day.

  • Früher habe ich viel Sport gemacht.
  • Back in the day, I used to do a lot of sports.

How far back does it have to be? Well, that’s not clear. But I’d say at least a couple of years. It definitely sounds like it refers to a past period that is over now.

It’s a common mistake and it can actually sound really confusing to a native speaker, so it’s worth fixing :).