- at one time in the past; formerly: I was a farmer once; a once powerful nation.
- a single time: We ate there just once. We go to a movie once a week.
- even a single time; at any time; ever: If the facts once become known, it will be just too bad.
- by a single step, degree, or grade: a cousin once removed.
- former; having at one time been: the once and future king.
- if or when at any time; if ever.
- whenever; as soon as: Once you’re finished, you can leave.
- a single occasion; one time only: Once is enough.
- all at once,
- simultaneously: The children were running, screaming, and throwing things all at once.
- suddenly: All at once the rain came down.
- at once,
- at the same time; simultaneously: Don’t all speak at once.
- immediately; promptly: Tell him to come at once!
- once and again, repeatedly: He has been told once and again not to slam the door.
- once and for all, decisively; finally: Let’s settle this problem once and for all.Also once for all.
- once in a while, at intervals; occasionally: She stops in to see us once in a while.
- once or twice, a very few times; infrequently: I’ve seen her in the elevator once or twice.
- once upon a time, at some unspecified past time, especially a long time ago: Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived a prince and princess.
- one time; on one occasion or in one case
- at some past time; formerlyI could speak French once
- by one step or degree (of relationship)a cousin once removed
- (in conditional clauses, negatives, etc) ever; at allif you once forget it
- multiplied by one
- once and away
- once and for all conclusively; for the last time
- once in a while occasionally; now and then
- once or twice or once and again a few times
- once upon a time used to begin fairy tales and children’s stories
- (subordinating) as soon as; if ever or wheneveronce you begin, you’ll enjoy it
- one occasion or caseyou may do it, this once
- all at once
- suddenly or without warning
- at once
- for once this time, if (or but) at no other time
c.1200, anes, from ane “one” (see one ) + adverbial genitive. Replaced Old English æne. Spelling changed as pronunciation shifted from two syllables to one after c.1300. Pronunciation change to “wuns” parallels that of one. As an emphatic, meaning “once and for all,” it is attested from c.1300, but this now is regarded as a Pennsylvania German dialect formation. Meaning “in a past time” (but not necessarily just one time) is from mid-13c.
Once upon a time as the beginning of a story is recorded from 1590s. At once originally (early 13c.) meant “simultaneously,” later “in one company” (c.1300), and preserved the sense of “one” in the word; the phrase typically appeared as one word, atones; the modern meaning “immediately” is attested from 1530s.
All at the same time, as in We can’t get inside all at once, so please wait your turn. [Late 1300s]
Suddenly, unexpectedly, as in All at once the sky darkened. For a synonym, see all of a sudden.
In addition to the idioms beginning with once
- once and for all
- once bitten, twice shy
- once in a blue moon
- once in a lifetime
- once in a while
- once over lightly
- once upon a time
- all at once
- at once
- every now and then (once in a while)
- give someone the once-over