The Chinese character 早 (zǎo) as a noun stands for morning. It is formed with the character for the sun, 日 (rì), at the top. As an adjective and adverb, 早 (zǎo) refers to early, previous, or soon.
To wish someone “good morning,” a Mandarin speaker says 早安 (zǎo ān), or just 早 (zǎo), where 安 (ān) conveys good wishes such as safety, security, calm, contentment, and satisfaction.
Meanwhile, a Cantonese speaker would say 早晨 (zǎo chén), literally “early morning,” where 晨 (chén) carries similar meanings to those of 早 (zǎo), i.e. morning, dawn, or daybreak.
The expression 早眠早起 (zǎo mián zǎo qǐ), literally “early sleep early rise,” advises people to keep good hours, meaning regular, early hours.
Breakfast is referred to by a number of different terms: 早餐 (zǎo cān) or 早膳 (zǎo shàn), literally “early meal,” or 早飯 (zǎo fàn), literally “early rice,” where 飯 (fàn) refers to cooked rice.
早晚 (zǎo wǎn), literally “morning and evening,” conveys the meaning of “sooner or later.”
The morning paper is called 早報 (zǎo bào), literally “early report.” 報 (bào) refers to 報紙 (bào zhǐ), a newspaper, or literally “report paper,” where 紙 (zhǐ) means paper.
早朝 (zǎo cháo), or “morning court,” refers to the early-morning assembly when the emperors of Imperial China met with his subjects.
The idiom 早朝晏罷 (zǎo cháo yàn bà) describes attending the royal court session early and finishing 罷 (bà) late 晏 (yàn), praising those who are diligent, industrious, and hardworking in administering governmental affairs.
A similar phrase is 起早貪黑 (qǐ zǎo tān hēi), which means “to rise early and sleep late.” 貪 (tān) means “to covet” or “to have an eager desire for,” while 黑 (hēi) means black or dark.
早佔勿藥 (zǎo zhàn wù yào) is an expression used to wish someone an early (早, zǎo) recovery from illness without having to take medicine (藥, yào). 佔 (zhàn) means “to possess,” referring to regaining good health in this case, while 勿 (wù) means “do not,” referring to not taking medicine in this case.
早知今日 (zǎo zhī jīn rì) conveys the meaning of “if I had known earlier about today,” where 知 (zhī) means “to know,” 早知 (zǎo zhī) stands for foresight or foreknowledge, and 今日 (jīn rì) refers to “today.”
A similar expression is 早知如此 (zǎo zhī rú cǐ), where 如此 (rú cǐ) indicates “this,” i.e. “if I had known this earlier.”
Both of these expressions are often followed by 悔不當初 (huǐ bù dāng chū), or “to regret what one did in the past.” 悔 (huǐ) means to express repentance or regret, 不 (bù) means “not,” and 當初 (dāng chū) means “at that time” or “originally.”