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Example 1

When I was in Japan for a month in 2017, I talked to a weird man and he acted weird and tried to scam.

Example 2

When I was in Japan for a month in 2017, I once talked to a weird man and he acted weird and tried to scam.

Are they both correct?

Can I talk about a one single event like my examples?

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  • No - your phrasing isn't idiomatic. We don't normally use once like this in contexts where the time-frame has already been established. But it's okay if you use once first, and then continue with further details: I talked to a weird man once, [back] when I was in Japan for a month in 2017. Note that the text you've written after a weird man is really weird, and needs to be rephrased. Commented Apr 15, 2023 at 10:05
  • What I intended to say was that during my stay in Japan, I had an encounter with a weird man, and something happened. How can I say it? Maybe my example 1 is good enough?
    – vincentlin
    Commented Apr 15, 2023 at 10:27
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    If your question is about how to use once then it's On Topic here. If you just want us to proofread your examples, or suggest better phrasing, those are Off Topic requests Commented Apr 15, 2023 at 10:50
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    Also you'd need to say "to scam me". Scam is usually a transitive verb and requires a direct object.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Apr 15, 2023 at 10:53
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    Yes - the first example is fine. We wouldn't normally use once for a past event that was only a few years ago. In I once had a kitten, for example, once is reminiscent of Once upon a time... as used to start a children's story - it usually refers to long ago. So you probably don't want it in your context, but if you did want to use it, you should include once before you actually specify exactly when. Commented Apr 15, 2023 at 11:24

2 Answers 2

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The use of "once" is odd and not idiomatic. There's no need for it as the normal understanding of "I talked to a weird man" is that this is a single event - there is nothing to indicate that it is not.

The usual meaning of "once" in a construction like "Once I played tennis" is "at some time in the past". But this contradicts the initial phrase which gives a specific time.

If you really need to emphasise that something happened once you need to properly emphasise it:

... most of the people I met were polite and friendly but there was one occasion on which I talked to ....

As noted in comments, there are several other issues with your sentences, such as the repetition of "weird" and the misuse of "scam".

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  • I'm not going to downvote, but there's nothing wrong with the usage. Being in Japan for an entire month entails approximately 43,000 minutes to account for. If it is relevant in the wider passage to explicate on the frequency and duration of the encounter, then one includes a modifier like once (perhaps to contrast or emphasize how civil the Japanese are towards each other, or how even their homeless populations are decidedly more eusocial than our homeless here in the US). The compositionality of language comports with an interpretation that holism obtains to an analysis of good use.
    – J D
    Commented Apr 15, 2023 at 22:31
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Your question is, given:

When I was in Japan for a month in 2017, I (once) talked to a weird man and he acted weird and tried to scam.

Both of these would be standard usage. Do you use 'once'? That depends on the rest of the passage. 'Once' might be very good to use if it leads into a bigger idea:

When I was in Japan for a month in 2017, I (once) talked to a weird man and he acted weird and tried to scam. And yet, having grown up on the Southside of Chicago, I couldn't go 3 days without having someone who was weird accost me repeatedly. Japan seems to me a much more civil place than my home.

I wouldn't use the word weird twice though. If you are using a clause or a phrase to say he acts weird, than to use 'weird' as an adjective before would be redundant.

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