Il était une fois

Il était une fois
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Fairy Tale French Expression

MeaningOnce upon a time
LiterallyIt was once
PronunciationFrench 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.

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Il était une fois

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