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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