Meaning of “once” in the English Dictionary

"once" in British English

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uk /wʌns/ us /wʌns/

once adverb (ONE TIME)

A2 one single time:

I went sailing once, but I didn't like it.
We have lunch together once a month.
at once

C1 at the same time:

They all started talking at once.
for once

B2 used when something happens that does not usually happen:

For once, the bus came on time.
just this once

used to say that you will only do or request something on this particular occasion:

All right, I'll lend you the money - just this once.
once again also once more

B1 again, as has happened before:

once more

B1 one more time:

I'd like to visit the campus once more before we leave.

again, as has happened before:

When my father came home, everything felt right once more.
once or twice

a few times:

I've seen him once or twice in town.
(every) once in a while

B2 sometimes but not often:

We meet for lunch once in a while.
once and for all

C2 completely and in a way that will finally solve a problem:

Our intention is to destroy their offensive capability once and for all.
once in a lifetime

only likely to happen once in a person's life:

An opportunity as good as this arises once in a lifetime.
the once

UK on a single occasion:

I've only played rugby the once, and I never want to play it again.

More examples

  • I go to aerobics once a week.
  • I did meet him once and it was an experience I shall never forget.
  • The baby only feeds once a night at the moment, thank goodness.
  • If I look flustered it's because I'm trying to do so many things at once.
  • She's decided to write her memoirs to set the record straight once and for all.

once adverb (PAST)

B1 in the past, but not now:

This house once belonged to my grandfather.
Computers are much cheaper nowadays than they once were.
Once-thriving villages stand deserted and in ruins.

More examples

  • Turkey was once an important colonial power.
  • England was once a densely wooded country.
  • Cancer sufferers no longer face certain death as they once did.
  • Shops of this type, once rare, are now numerous.
  • An article on this topic would once have been considered off limits.


uk /wʌns/ us /wʌns/

B2 as soon as, or from the moment when:

Once I've found somewhere to live I'll send you my address.
Remember that you won't be able to cancel the contract once you've signed.
at once

B1 immediately:

I knew at once that I'd like it here.

More examples

  • Decoding the paintings is not difficult once you know what the component parts symbolize.
  • You'll feel better once you've got some hot soup down you.
  • We can't afford to make any false moves once we're in enemy territory.
  • Fourteen miles is further than you'd think once you start to run it.
  • My new hiking boots will be great once I've broken them in.

(Definition of “once” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

"once" in American English

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onceadverb [ not gradable ]

us /wʌns/

once adverb [ not gradable ] (AT ONE TIME)

on or at a single time:

I went to Disney World once.
The book club meets once a month.
Going to the Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (= a rare and valuable one).

once adverb [ not gradable ] (IN THE PAST)

in the past, but not now:

I lived in Milwaukee once.
Computers are much cheaper now than they once were.


us /wʌns/

once conjunction (AS SOON AS)

as soon as, or when:

Once you’ve tried their ice cream, you’ll be back for more.

(Definition of “once” from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)

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