Il était une fois

Il était une fois
Share / Tweet / Pin Me!

Fairy Tale French Expression

Meaning Once upon a time
Literally It was once
Register normal
Pronunciation French sound files [ee lay tay toon fwah]
IPA   [i le te tyn fwa]

Usage notes: The French expression il était une fois is the classic way to begin a fairy tale, equivalent to "Once upon a time."

Il était une fois une petite fille de village …   Once upon a time, there was a little village girl …
Le petit chaperon rouge   Little Red Riding Hood


  • Il y avait une fois – literally, "There was once"
  • Il fut une fois  (very rare)

 In modern French, une fois means "once" as in "one time, a single instance." However, it used to share the other, rarer meaning of "once" as in "at a certain time"; for example, "Once, I dreamed of being an astronaut." This doesn’t mean I only had the thought on one occasion, but rather refers to a point in time when I had that desire. So il était une fois indicates something that existed at some point in time, as opposed to something that happened only once. And that’s why the verb is in the imperfect, rather than the passé simple.

 Related lessons

 Share / Tweet / Pin Me!

Il était une fois

Stay up to date with Lawless French

Questions about French?

 Visit the Progress with Lawless French Q+A forum to get help from native French speakers and fellow learners.

More Lawless French

 Subscribe to my twice-weekly newsletter.

Support Lawless French

  This free website is created with love and a great deal of work.

If you love it, please consider making a one-time or monthly donation.

Your support is entirely optional but tremendously appreciated.

Leave a Reply