Erev means evening in Hebrew. Days in the Jewish calendar begin as the daylight leaves -- as opposed to other calendar systems where a day begins at midnight or sunrise (as it becomes light).
Because of the intent to make sure some things are done or not done on certain days, there are various ways of measuring or defining when evening has arrived: sunset or the visibility of 3 stars in the night sky. So, if you want to make sure you don't do something on a certain day, like work on Shabbat, you'd stop doing those things as the sun sets. But if you want to make sure the day has arrived, you'd wait for 3 stars.
Erev also has a meaning that is less common these days. In this older meaning it refers to the time before the holiday has actually begun. During this time, one can still do the things that are forbidden or need to be done before the holiday in preparation. In this meaning, it can refer to the day before the holiday or event.
Erev Shabbat and the dinner that starts Shabbat are an important family gathering time for many Jews, even those that do not observe other religious rituals. Kol Nidre, the service on the evening of Yom Kippur, or Erev Yom Kippur, is probably the most widely attended of any Jewish religious service.