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Let's say I'm talking about some day in the past. In formal writing, I would use:

Earlier that day, I had lunch with my boss.

But is the following also correct?

Earlier today, I had lunch with my boss.

Clarification: I'm not talking about something that happened today (as of the date when I'm writing), but some day in the past... last week, 3 months ago, etc.

Can I still write this?

It was the 1st of April, 2006. Today had been the worst day of my life...

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Earlier today would be understood as referring to something happened this day (today has origin from a Old English word that means on this day); earlier that day is referring to a day that you mentioned before.

To reply to your other question,

It was the 1st of April, 2006. Today had been the worst day of my life.

seems awkward, as today is not understood to mean on this day (the original meaning).

In narrative, an event that is happened in the past is narrated as it is the present, as in:

It is the 1st of April, 2006. Today will be the worst day of my life.

Outside that specific context, I would write

It was the 1st of April, 2006. That day had been the worst day of my life.

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Note that I have seen narratives that mixed past and present as in the OP's example of using "Today" in a sentence that is otherwise in the past tense. If the writer is good enough (and confident enough), it can work. –  Marthaª Feb 15 '11 at 1:45
    
Indeed, I agree with Martha. I've seen the same and I think it all depends on the skill of the author. –  jcolebrand Feb 15 '11 at 6:45
    
Indeed, with the "conditional" (i.e. future-in-the-past") I would say it is quite common: "It was the 1st April 2006. Today would be the day I stood up for myself". In these examples it is a literary device to make the action immediate to the reader. –  Colin Fine Feb 15 '11 at 14:29
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“Earlier today” is a totally correct way to refer to a point in time between the beginning of the day and the current time. Because it refers to a moment in the past, it can be used with the past tense, as you did in your example.

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But "earlier today" does not mean the same thing as "earlier that day". No matter how contrived I try to get, I can't come up with an example where one could be substituted for the other without completely changing the meaning. –  Marthaª Feb 15 '11 at 1:38
    
@Martha: I completely agree with you, which is why I carefully described (or so I thought) which span of time it refers to. –  F'x Feb 15 '11 at 9:19
    
but then how does this answer the OP's question, which (as I read it) is specifically about whether the two phrasings are interchangeable? –  Marthaª Feb 15 '11 at 14:57
    
@Martha: he's asking whether the second formulation is correct. It is grammaticaly correct, it doesn't have the same meaning as the first one. The clarification, of course, changes the meaning of the question into the one you mention (whether the two formulations are interchangeable). –  F'x Feb 15 '11 at 19:21
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If your narrative comes in the form of a diary or journal, then you can use 'today' when referring to a day in the past. "April 23, 1958. Today was pivotal in my ongoing attempt to turn lead into gold..."

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Earlier today is certainly correct within this context. Earlier in the day is also a very popular way of saying the same thing. Some also simply just say earlier:

  • Earlier today, I had lunch with my boss.
  • Earlier in the day, I had lunch with my boss.
  • Earlier, I had lunch with my boss.

However, most people would say:

  • I had lunch earlier with my boss.
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As I noted on the answer by FX_, earlier today may be grammatically correct, but it refers to a completely different day than earlier that day. (With sufficient context, earlier in the day or earlier might work as synonyms for earlier that day.) –  Marthaª Feb 15 '11 at 1:42
    
I guess this answer was posted before the clarification was added to the question; that's why it appears less relevant now. –  ShreevatsaR Feb 15 '11 at 9:41
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