I thought "Once upon a time, there was a Boy" is quite a "standard" way to write an opening line of a story. But then I saw this book called "Once There was a Boy". It sounds quite unnatural compared to "Once Upon a time, there was a Boy". Is this a grammatically correct phrase?

If not, is it because it is used as a (children's) book title so it is okay that the grammar doesn't need to be 100% correct?

  • 2
    "Once there was a way to get back homewards“ The opening line of a beautiful Beatles' song "Golden Slumbers”
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 5, 2023 at 13:24
  • Good point. I feel a bit embarrassed that it didn't come to my mine as I love Beatle songs Nov 5, 2023 at 13:39
  • Or split the difference… "Once there was a time" ;) Songs by Tom Jones & Ten Years After, and a BBC documentary. Nov 5, 2023 at 14:50
  • Once upon a time is the classic way to start a fairytale-type story, but in any other kind it would be something of a cliché. There's nothing unnatural about Once there was a boy... or There was once a boy... Nov 5, 2023 at 15:06
  • Don't write 'boy' with a capital B unless it is in a title. Nov 5, 2023 at 15:18

1 Answer 1


The book's title “Once there was a boy…” is perfectly grammatical, it suggests that there was a boy who lived a long time ago.

There are other examples of this usage:

Once there was a fire; and Miss Turner, the precise elder daughter, seeing them running, hoped it was not their house.
Hetty by Henry Kingsley (1869)

There are salmon in the lake, and pike, and otters, too. Once there were wolves in these parts and wild boars—folks used to make pits for them.
Kirsten's Adventures (1871)

ONCE THERE WERE WOLVES (2021) is also the title of a recent New York Times bestseller

Once, there was a way
To get back homeward
Once, there was a way
To get back home.

The opening line of a Beatles' song entitled Golden Slumbers (1969) A nostalgic ballad where the singer comes to accept that the path home no longer exists.

  • 1
    What about "Once upon a time"? How is it different, or is it the same?
    – gotube
    Nov 5, 2023 at 21:13
  • It is a set expression, traditionally used for children's tales. If you use it, that is what most readers are going to think of.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 5, 2023 at 23:18
  • @gotube I answered whether the title (Once there was a boy…) was grammatical. It is and I supported it with evidence.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 6, 2023 at 1:25
  • @ColinFine when you said "It is a set expression", were you referring to "once there was a boy" or "once upon a time, there was a boy" ? I am confused. Nov 6, 2023 at 3:16
  • Is "to get back homeward" grammatical? Nov 6, 2023 at 11:16

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