Once Upon A Time
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Once Upon A Time
Frontispiece to The How and Why Library, 1909

"Once upon a time" is a stock phrase used to introduce a narrative of past events, typically in fairy tales and folk tales. It has been used in some form since at least 1380 (according to the Oxford English Dictionary) in storytelling in the English language and has opened many oral narratives since 1600. These stories often then end with "and they all lived happily ever after", or, originally, "happily until their deaths".

The phrase is particularly common in fairy tales for younger children, where it is almost always the opening line of a tale. It was commonly used in the original translations of the stories of Charles Perrault as a translation for the French "il était une fois", of Hans Christian Andersen as a translation for the Danish "der var engang", (literally "there was once"), the Brothers Grimm as a translation for the German "es war einmal" (literally "it was once") and Joseph Jacobs in English translations and fairy tales.

The phrase is also frequently used in such oral stories as retellings of myths, fables, folklore and children's literature.[1]

Other languages

The "story-starting phrase" is a common feature of many languages.

Language Common beginning Common beginning (English translation) Common ending Common ending (English translation)
Albanian Na ishte një herë... Once there was... Dhe ata jetuan lumtur pergjithmonë And they lived happy forever
Afrikaans Eendag, lank gelede... One day, a long time ago... Fluit, fluit, die storie is uit Whistle, whistle, the story is done
Algerian Arabic Hajitek ma jitek ( ?‎) I've told you what's coming Unknown Unknown
Amharic ... Once a long time ago... ? :: Return my story and feed me bread.(It is a way of saying tell me a story for the one I have told you.)
Classical Arabic kân yâ mâ kân fî qadîmi zzamân wsalifî al`aSri wal'awân...

( ? ? ?‎)

There was, oh what there was (or there wasn't) in the oldest of days and ages and times... Unknown Unknown
Assamese ? ? ... (Bahut dinor aagot...) Long time ago... Unknown Unknown
Armenian ?, ... (Linum e, chi linum) There was, there was not... ? ? ? ? , ? , ? : (Yerknkits yereq khndzor e ynknum` Meky groxin, meky patmoxin, mekn el lsoxin) 3 apples fall from the sky/heaven - one for the writer/author, one for the storyteller, one for the listener Note: (the three apples can "be given" to different people, when people tell stories they change the three to whatever they like. The version noted here is the most common/known)
Asturian Ello yera una vez... There was once... Y con esto acabóse'l cuentu. And so the tale is finished.
Azeri Biri var idi, biri yox idi... There was, (and) there was not... Unknown Unknown
Basque Bazen behin... Once upon a time... ...eta hala bazan ala ez bazan, sar dadila kalabazan eta atera dadila ...-ko plazan ... and it was or it was not, come in in the pumpkin and come out in the square of... (name of a town).
Bengali ek je chhilo raja... Once there lived a king aamaar kothati furolo; Notey gaachhti murolo My story ends and the spinach is eaten by the goat. (cf A Goat eats the root of a herb unlike cows, so being consumed by goats figuratively means something being irreversibly ended.)
Ek deshe chhilo... In some country, there was...
Breton Ur wech e oa... Once upon a time... ...hag e vevjont eürus asambles hag o devoe kalz a vugale. ...and they lived happily and had many children.
Bulgarian ? ...
(Imalo edno vreme...)
There was, once upon a time... ...? ? (...i zazhiveli shtastlivo do kraya na dnite si) ...and they lived happily until the end of their days
...? , ? ? (...i tri dni yali, pili i se veselili) ...and for three days they ate, drank and had fun.
Catalan Hi havia una vegada There was a time... Vet aquí un gat, vet aquí un gos, aquest conte ja s'ha fos. I vet aquí un gos, vet aquí un gat, aquest conte s'ha acabat. Here's a cat, here's a dog, this tale is already melted. And here's a dog, here's a cat, this tale is finished.
Temps era temps... Time was time... I conte contat, conte acabat Tale told, tale finished
Chinese T:
P: H?nji? h?nji? y?qián
A very very long time ago... T: ,
S: ,
P: Cóngc?, t?menguòzhe xìngfú kuàilè de rìzi
... and they lived a happy life
Croatian Bio jednom jedan... There was once a... ...i ?ivjeli su sretno do kraja ?ivota. ...and they lived happily until the end of their lives.
Czech Bylo nebylo, ... There was, there was not... ... a ?ili astn? a? do smrti. ...and they lived happily until they died.
Byl jednou jeden... There was once a ... ...a jestli neum?eli, ?ijí tam dodnes. ...and if they have not died yet, they still live there today.
Za sedmero horami a sedmero ?ekami... Beyond seven mountain ranges, beyond seven rivers . . . Zazvonil zvonec a pohádky je konec. A bell rang and the tale comes to its end.
Danish Der var engang... There was, once... Og de levede lykkeligt til deres dages ende. And they lived happily until the end of their days.
Engang for længe siden... Once a long time ago... Og hvis de ikke er døde, lever de endnu. And if they're not dead, they are still alive.
Dutch Er was eens... Once there was... ... en ze leefden nog lang en gelukkig. ...and they lived long and happily.
En toen kwam er een varken met een lange snuit en die blies het verhaaltje uit. And then came a pig with a long snout, and it blew the story out (over).
Esperanto Iam estis... Once there was... La mizero fini?is kaj ili ?oje vivis kune. Their misery was ended and they lived together joyfully.
En tempo jam de longa pasinta,
kiam efikas ankora? sor?ado....
In a time already long past,
when it was still of use to cast a spell...
Nenio mankis en ilia feli?o ?is la morto. Nothing was lacking to their happiness until their death.
Estonian Elasid kord... There once lived a... ... ja nad elasid õnnelikult elu lõpuni. ...and they lived happily until the end of their lives.
Seitsme maa ja mere taga elas kord... Behind seven lands and seas there lived a... ...ja kui nad surnud ei ole, siis elavad nad õnnelikult edasi ...and if they're not dead, they still live happily.
Faroese Einaferð var tað... Once there was... Og tey livdu lukkuliga allar teirra dagar. and they lived happily all their days.
snip, snap, snúti, so var søgan úti. snip, snap, stout, then the story was out.
Filipino Noong unang panahon... At the beginning of time... At sila'y namuhay ng mapayapa at masagana And they lived peacefully and prosperous.
Finnish Olipa kerran... Once there was... Ja he elivät onnellisina elämänsä loppuun saakka. And they lived happily until the ends of their lives.
Sen pituinen se. That's the length of it.
French Il était une fois There was one time / There was once... ...et ils vécurent heureux et eurent beaucoup d'enfants ...and they lived happily and had many children.
...et ils vécurent heureux jusqu'à la fin des temps ...and they lived happily until the end of time.
German Es war einmal... Once there was... ...und wenn sie nicht gestorben sind, dann leben sie noch heute. ...and if they haven't died, they are still alive today.
In den alten Zeiten, als das Wünschen noch geholfen hat Back in the days when it was still of help to wish for a thing,... ...und sie lebten glücklich und zufrieden bis ans Ende ihrer Tage. ...and they lived happily and contentedly until the end of their days.
Georgian , ...
(iko da ara iko ra, iko...)
There was, and there was not, there was... ? - , - , ? - , -

(?iri - ik?a, lxini - ak?a, k?at?o - ik?a, p?k?vili - ak?a)

Disaster there, feast here... bran there, flour here...
Goemai (Nigeria, West Chadic) Unknown (Story teller begins in a sing song voice) "Story, Story". The children reply "Story"

A long time ago... / In the days of our ancestors / When men were men and women tended the kitchen

Tamtis noe lat / dok ba muaan yi wa My tale has finished, (it) has returned to go (and) come home.
Greek (Modern) ? ? ...
(Mia fora ki enan kairo...)
Once and a time... (time = epoch/era/age) ... ? . (...kai z?sane autoi kala kai emeis kalytera) And they lived well, and we lived better
Gujarati ?
(Gha?ã va?ô pahelãn? v?ta che)
This is an old story. Unknown Unknown
... (Eka jam?n?mã...) In one era, ... Unknown Unknown
... (Va?ô pahelã...) A long back Unknown Unknown
(Hayoh hayah pa'am...)
Once there was... ? ‎ (Ve'hem ?ayu be'osher va'osher ad etzem hayom hazeh) And they lived in happiness and luxury to this very day.

(Hayo hayu pa'am...)
Once there were...
Hindi ? (Kis? zam?ne me?) In one era, ... Unknown Unknown
(Bahuta pur?n? b?ta hai)
It's an old story, ...
Hungarian Egyszer volt, hol nem volt, volt egyszer egy... Once there was, where there wasn't, there was a... Itt a vége, fuss el véle! This is the end; run away with it.
Boldogan éltek, amíg meg nem haltak. They lived happily until they died.
Icelandic Einu sinni fyrir langa löngu... Once a long time ago... Og þau lifðu hamingjusöm til æviloka And the lived happy for the rest of their lives.
Einu sinni var... Once there was... Köttur úti í mýri, setti upp á sér stýrið og úti er ævintýrið A cat in the bog put up his tail and there ends the fairytale.
Köttur úti í mýri, setti upp á sér stýri, úti er ævintýri Cat out in the swamp, lifted its tail, the adventure is finished.
Indonesian Pada zaman dahulu kala... A long time ago... Dan mereka hidup bahagia selama-lamanya. And they lived happily ever after.
Iraqw (Tanzania, Kenya, Cushitic) tokaro-yâ Once upon a time Unknown Unknown
In oral literature: Kar aníng te-'ée' to-ká a inhláw ar aakó doo-rén ni alki'-a i tí I remember something that our father told me and that is this: Unknown Unknown
Irish Fadó, fadó, fadó a bhí ann (agus bhí rí i nGaillimh) A long, long, long time ago it was (and there was a king in Galway) Unknown Unknown
Italian C'era una volta... There was once... E vissero felici e contenti. And they lived happy and content.
Japanese (, , Mukashi mukashi) Long ago, long ago...
(Medetashi medetashi)
So blissful
Korean ...
(Yet-nal Yet-jeok-e...)
On an old day, in the old times, ?
(Geurigo haeng-bok ha-gae sal-at damnida)
And they lived happily after then.
Kannada Ondanondu kaaladalli... Once, in a long past age,... Unknown Unknown
Koti (Mozambique, Bantu) Rakú z'éepo waarí-vó oswááipu nwúlw'eéne saána Once upon the time, there was a truly great friendship... Unknown Unknown
Kyrgyz -...
A long, long time ago... Unknown Unknown
Latin Olim... At that time, Once Unknown Unknown
Latvian Reiz sen senos laikos... Once long ago in times long gone Unknown Unknown
Lithuanian Vien? kart?... Once upon the time
U? devyni? j?r?, u? devyni? mari?... Beyond nine seas, beyond nine lagoons Ir a? ten buvau, al? mid? g?riau, per barzd? varv?jo, burnoj netur?jau And I was there, drank some mead ale, dribbled through my beard, had not in my mouth
Kart? seniai, seniai... Once long, long ago
Buvo nebuvo... There was, and there was not
Luxembourgish Et war eemol...
(old orthography: Et wor eemol...)
Once there was... An wann se net gestuerwen sin, dann liewen se nach haut ...and if they haven't died yet, they are still living today.
Macedonia ? ...
(Si beshe ednash...)
Once upon the time there was... Unknown Unknown
Malayalam Pandu oridathu... Long ago, at a place... Unknown Unknown
Malay Pada zaman dahulu... Once upon a time Mereka hidup bahagia selama-lamanya. They lived happily ever after.
Marathi ? ?...
(kone eke kaali...)
in a very old time... ?
(aani te sukhane raahu laagle)
and they lived happily ever after
Maragoli Mmadikhu ga khaare In olden days Unknown Unknown
Maltese Darba, fost l-o?rajn... Once upon a time... U g?exu henjin u kuntenti g?al dejjem And they lived happily and contentedly ever after.
Moroccan Arabic ?‎ (Hajitek ma jitek) I've told you what's coming Unknown Unknown
Nepali language (eka desh ma) Once in a country... ?,
? ?;
? ?, ? ?
A Golden Garland to the listener, A flower Garland to the narrator; This story shall go to Vishnu's abode (Heaven), And come back hot(fresh) on someone else's (the next Narrator) lips. (Said in a rhyme.)
Nigeria (South) Varied (Story teller begins in a sing song voice) "Story, Story". The children reply "Story"

or, A long time ago... or, In the days of our ancestors... (or this, usually among adults and jovially) Long ago, when men were men and women tended the kitchen...

Varied And so my story has finished. It has returned to where it came from.
Norwegian Det var en gang... There was, once... Og så levde de lykkelige alle sine dager And then they lived happily for the remainder of their days.
Og er de ikke døde, så lever de ennå. And if they're not dead, they still live.
Snipp, snapp, snute, så er eventyret ute. Snip, snap, snute (snout), then this adventure is finished.
Occitan Un còp èra... There was one time / There was once...
Pashto ?
(Daasi kaar wo che)
There was this work that... Bas The End
(Daasi chal wo che)
There was this work that... Bas The End
Persian ... ?
Ruzi, ruzg?ri, ...
Someday, sometime, ... ?

Be p?y?n ?mad in daftar,
hek?yat ham?en?n b?qist.

This book has come to end,
(but) the story yet remains.
... ? ? ?
Yeki bud, yeki nabud, ...
Someone was, someone wasn't, ... ?
. ?

Qesse ye m? be sar resid,
kal?qe be xuna? naresid.

Our tale has come to end,
(but) the crow hasn't arrived at his house.
Polish (Dawno, dawno temu,) za siedmioma górami, za siedmioma lasami... (A long, long time ago,) beyond seven mountains, beyond seven forests... ...i ?yli d?ugo i szczliwie. ...and they lived long and happily.
Za siedmioma górami, za siedmioma rzekami... Beyond seven mountains, beyond seven rivers... ...a ja tam by?em, miód i wino pi?em. ...and I was there [usually at a wedding] too, and drank mead and wine.
Portuguese Era uma vez... There was, once... ...e viveram felizes para sempre ...and they lived happily forever.
Qiang Gver gver ngue du... A long long time ago... Unknown Unknown
Romanian A fost odat?, ca niciodat? c? dac? n-ar fi fost, nu s-ar mai povesti... There once was, (as never before)... because if there wasn't, it wouldn't have been to told ...?i au tr?it ferici?i pân? la adânci b?trâne?i. ...and they lived happily until old age.
Russian -
Long, long time ago... ? ? ? (? ? ? ?).[2]
(I zhili oni dolgo i s-chastlivo (i umerli v odin den').)
...and they lived long and happily [and died on the same day]
(? ?, ? ) , ...

((V nekotorom tsarstve, v nekotorom goosudarstve) Zhil byl...)

(In some kingdom, in some land) There lived, there was... ... ? ? , .[3]

(i stali oni zhit' pozhivat', da dobra nazhivat')

... and they lived and prospered.
Sanskrit (P?r?k?le) In the ancient time... Unknown Unknown
? (Kad?jit) Once upon the time, At any time Unknown Unknown
Scots In the days o lang syne Long ago Unknown Unknown
Serbian ...
(Jednom davno...);

(Nekada davno...)

Once, a long time ago... ...? / . (...i ?ive?e sretno/sre?no do kraja ?ivota.) ...and they lived happily for the rest of their lives.
? ...
(fem., Bila jednom jedna)

(masc., Bio jednom jedan)
? ...
(neuter, Bilo jednom jedno)

There once was one... ...? ? ? /. (...i ?ive?e dugo i sretno/sre?no.) ...and they lived long and happily.
Shona Paivapo... A long time ago, there existed Ndopanoperera sarungano End of the story.
Slovak Kde bolo, tam bolo... Where it was, there it was... ...a ?ili spolu astne, a? kým nepomreli. ...and they lived together happily, until they died.
Za horami, za dolami... Beyond the hills, beyond the valleys... ...a ?ili spolu astne a? do smrti. ...and they lived together happily until their deaths.
Za siedmimi horami a za siedmimi dolinami... Beyond seven mountains and seven valleys... ...a pokia? nepomreli, ?ijú astne dodnes. ...and if they haven't died already, they are living happily to this day.
Tam, kde sa voda sypala a piesok sa lial... Where the water was being strewn and the sand poured... Zazvonil zvonec a rozprávke je koniec. The bell chimed and the tale came to its end.
Bol raz jeden... Once, there was a...
Slovene Pred davnimi ?asi... A long time ago... ...in ?ivela sta sre?no do konca svojih dni. ...and they (both) lived happy until the end of their days.
Neko? je bil(a)/?ivel(a)... Once upon a time there was/lived... ...in ?iveli so sre?no do konca svojih dni. ... and they (all) lived happily until the end of their days.
Somali Sheeko sheeko, sheeko xariir... Once upon a time..
Spanish Érase una vez... There was, once... ...y vivieron felices y comieron perdices. ...and they lived happy and ate partridges.
Había una vez... There was, once... ...y colorín, colorado, este cuento se ha acabado. ...and red, redder,[] this tale has ended.
Swahili (east African) Hapo zamani za kale... A long time ago Unknown Unknown
Swedish Det var en gång... Once, there was... ...och så levde de lyckliga i alla sina dagar. ...and then they lived happily for all of their days.
En gång för länge sedan... Once, long ago... Snipp snapp snut, så var sagan slut Snip, snap, snute (snout), thus the story ends.
Tagalog Noóng unang panahón... Back in the old time... At sila'y nabuhay nang masaya And they lived happily.
Tamil language ... (Muoru k?lattil?...) At a time long ago Subham The End.
Telugu language ?...
(anaganag? oka r?ju)
Once upon a day... Unknown Unknown
Thai ?
(gaan kráng nèung naan maa láew)
Once upon the time (long ago)...

(láew túk kon gôr yòo dûay gan yàang mee kwaam sùk dtà-lòt bpai)

And they lived happily forever.
Turkish Bir varm, bir yokmu?. Evvel zaman içinde, kalbur saman içinde, cinler cirit oynar iken eski hamam içinde, pireler berber [iken], develer tellal [iken], ben ninemin be?i?ini t?ng?r m?ng?r sallar iken, uzak diyarlar?n birinde... Once there was, and once there wasn't. In the long-distant days of yore, when haystacks winnowed sieves, when genies played jereed in the old bathhouse, [when] fleas were barbers, [when] camels were town criers, [and when] I softly rocked my baby grandmother to sleep in her creaking cradle, there was/lived, in an exotic land, far, far away, a/an...*

* : This traditional opening phrase by the storyteller is rich with rhyming wordplays, tongue-twisters, as well as comedic and bizarre situational juxtapositions that are meant to draw listeners in, and set the stage for a whimsical, fantastical storyline.

Gökten üç elma dü?mü?; biri onlar?n, biri anlatan?n, di?eri de dinleyenlerin bana. Onlar ermi? murad?na, biz ç?kal?m kerevetine.

Gökten üç elma dü?mü?; birincisi, içindeki çocu?u ya?atmay? bilenlere, ikincisi, davranmadan önce dinleyip dü?ünenlere, üçüncüsü ise özündeki sevgiyi ve umudu hiç kaybetmeyenlere. Onlar ermi? murad?na, biz ç?kal?m kerevetine.

Lastly, three apples fell from the sky; one for our story's heroes, one for the person who told their tale, and one for those who listened and promise to share. And with that, they* all achieved their hearts' desires. Let us** now step up and settle into their thrones.***

Lastly, three apples fell from the sky; one for those who know to keep their inner child alive, one for those who know to listen and think before they act, and one for those who never lose the love and hope within their soul. And with that, they* all achieved their hearts' desires. Let us** now step up and settle into their thrones.***

* : the protagonists of the story
**: the listeners
***: a common conclusory storytelling expression meaning "may we all share in their good fortune"

Ukrainian -
Long, long time ago... ? ? ? ? ?.
(I zhyly vony dovho i shchaslyvo.)
...and they lived long and happily.
(? ? ?, ? ?) -...

((V deyakomu tsarstvi, u deyakiy derzhavi) zhyv-buv...)

(In some kingdom, in some land) There lived, there was...
Urdu ?
(Ek dafa ka zikar hai...)
Once upon a time... Unknown Unknown
Vietnamese Ngày x?a ngày x?a... A long, long time ago... ...và h? s?ng h?nh phúc mãi mãi v? sau ...and they live happily ever after
Valenciano Això va anar i era... This was and was... I visqueren molts anys de molta felicitat. And they lived many years of happiness.
Això va passar en aquells temps antics This occurred in those ancient times Van ser molt feliços, tingueren molts fills i encara viurien si no s'haguessen mort They were very happy, had many children, and still would live if they had not died
Welsh Amser maith yn ôl... A long time ago... Unknown Unknown

Modern variants

  • Don McLean's "American Pie" begins with the phrase "A long, long time ago...".
  • All nine of the Star Wars films, as well as several of the expanded universe novels, begin with the phrase "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....".
  • The musical Into the Woods begins with the Narrator's line, "Once upon a time." The second act commences with his line, "Once upon a time... later..." The musical is a retelling of many famous fairy tales.
  • In the Singaporean comedy series Under One Roof, Moses Lim's character Tan Ah Teck begins his stories with "Long before your time, in the southern province of China ...".
  • In the 2010 Edgar Wright film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the opening scene narrates the words "Not so long ago, in the mysterious land of Toronto, Canada."
  • The opening line of the theme song to MST3k is: "In the not-too-distant future ... next Sunday, A.D."
  • Bionicle features the line "In a time, before time...".
  • The opening line of the TV series Merlin features the line "In a land of myth, and a time of magic..."
  • The first episode of Ivor the Engine opens with the line "Not so very long ago, in the top left-hand corner of Wales..."

See also

Further reading

  • ? ?.?. - ? ? // ? . ?. 18. ? ? ? .?, 1978. ?. 173-180.
  • ? ?.?. ? ? // ?. 1978. No 5. ?. 18-28.
  • Madden, David. 2006. A Pocketful of Prose. Vintage Short Fiction. Volume Two. Boston: Thomson, p. 117
  • Pop M. Die Funktion der Anfangs- und Schlufiformeln im rumaenischen Maerchen // Volksueberlieferung. Hrsg. F. Harkort, K.C. Peeters, R. Wildhaber. Goettingen: Otto Schwartz & Co, 1968. pages 321-326.
  • ? ?. ? . ?.-, 1974.
  • ?.?. ? ? . , 1991.


  1. ^ blogs.scientificamerican.com
  2. ^ " ? ? ? ? ? ? - Dslov.ru". dslov.ru (in Russian). Retrieved .
  3. ^ "? - Dslov.ru". Dslov.ru (in Russian). Retrieved .

External links

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