Need your help.

Are there any differences between the sentences when I use EARLIER or SOONER?

(a) Why didn't you come earlier/ sooner?
(b) Why didn't you wake me up earlier/ sooner?
(c) If I had known that, I would have bought the house earlier/ sooner?

Do both mean the same thing? Are they interchangeable in any context?

Thanks in advance!

Jay from ROK
1 2
They certainly seem interchangeable to me here, Jay.

I couldn't speak for 'any' context-- for instance, they are not interchangeable in these:

'I would sooner fight than switch'.
'The earlier I get up in the morning, the more tired I feel at midnight.'
The adverb "early" is "in the early part of some time span you are conceiving". The adverb "soon" means "within a shorter time from a fixed time point" or "promptly/quickly". So "early" and "soon" are not synonymous when they are used in the normal form. But when they are used in the comparative form, they sometimes get close in the meaning. "Earlier" comes to mean "at any time older than some time you are conceiving", while "sooner" comes to mean "within in a shorter time" or "more promptly/quickly". When the "sooner" is used in the first sense, "earlier" and "sooner" are almost synonymous and therefore interchangeable.
(1) The earlier you start, the earlier you will get there.
(2) The sooner you start, the sooner you will get there.

But how about the following two sentences?
(3) You can master English sooner than me because you are much brighter than me.
(4) You will master English earlier than me because you started the learning three years earlier than me.
I think we cannot change "earlier" and "sooner" in these cases (at least without changing the meaning).
Am I right?

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Or, 'The sooner you start, the earlier you will get there.'

I like your explanation, paco-- it makes sense to me. For your (3 & 4) sentences, however:

(3) 'You can master English sooner than me because you are much brighter.'
(4) 'You will master English earlier than me because you started learning three years earlier.'

I don't find any real difference in their pragmatic meanings. I, at least, could interchange the 'earlier's and 'sooner's without anguish.
Do both mean the same thing? Are they interchangeable in any context?

No they are different, but may come close to each other as paco outlined.

"early" defines a point in time in an absolute fashion, i.e. without relating to another point in time (but maybe relating to a span of time, then pointing somwhere near the beginning of this time span, and if omitting this time span, usually meaning "on a day").

"soon" defines a point in time in a relative fashion, i.e. it usually cannot stand for its own. (Although the other point in time may be implicit, for example "from now on".)

Which train shall I take? - Whichever arrives sooner/earlier!

Now, this is identical if one train arrives at 4 pm and one at 6 pm and you are asking either before 4 pm or after 6 pm. But it is not the same if you ask between 4 pm and 6 pm, because then the "earlier" train still is the one at 4 pm (though you have to wait for the next day to catch it), but the 6 pm train is the one that arrives sooner (=>implicitly: "than the one at 4 pm (on the next day)").

Hello MrP and Eagle

I'm still stuck to this question.
I feel there should be some difference in the usage of "earlier" and "sooner" as shown below.
But I can't explain it clearly. Could you help me?

(1) I finished my homework earlier (NOT sooner) this week.
(2) He came earlier (OK sooner) than we had expected.
(3) He will master English earlier (NOT? sooner) than you think, maybe by 2008.
(4) He can master English sooner (NOT earlier) than you think, maybe within 3 years.

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Thank you sooooo much everybody for sharing your thoughts!

Jay from ROK
OK, Paco, what I see is--

(1) 'I finished earlier this week' would normally be read as 'before today' but it can also be read as 'earlier this week than when I finished it last week'. 'Sooner', however, could only mean the latter.

(2) 'Earlier/sooner' both OK; 'earlier' also carries the meaning of 'an early time of day', if appropriate to the context.

(3) I would say that 'sooner' is preferable, though both are OK. 'Earlier' seems to carry that meaning of 'early time (of day)' with it, which the reader/listener automatically applies if applicable to the situation.

(4) Again, 'sooner' is preferable, as with (3).

Thanks MM, my thoughts exactly, though I would have needed more words to express them. cu
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