How to Use "Once" Correctly?

'Once' can be used either as an adverb or a conjunction. As adverb, 'once' means 'at some time' referring only to the past; however, when 'once' exactly means 'one time' (not twice or thrice), it can be used to talk about any time, even the future.

Once = 'at some time' (past)

  • I was once at home, strong, happy, and loved.
  • Once we diverted her luggage when she traveled. 
  • What is the biggest lie you once believe was true?
Once = 'one time' (any time, including the future) 
  • The audience had already heard the story more than once and were tired of it.
  • It was evident he had reflected on this subject more than once
  • I'm only going to say this once so listen carefully.

When 'once' functions as a conjunction, it means 'as soon as' or 'after', which is often used with a perfect tense. 

  • Once he settles into a place of any kind - a town, a home, or even a chair - he is disinclined to move.
  • Once they have made a decision, they adhere to it with great tenacity.
  • They love few; but once having become enamored are not easily turned aside.

Meanwhile, the common phrase 'at once' means 'immediately'. Check out a few examples:

  • I must pack at once, for I have only half an hour. 
  • 'At once? This instant!… No, it can't be!' she thought.
  • At once, that very instant, her fate would be decided.
  • I'll send someone at once. He shall be taken away - taken away at once.
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