I was writing a short chanting song to my sister to help her kids learn some new vocabulary:

"Once upon a time , there's a little kitty whose name's Hello Kitty, falling in love with Japanese Melody".

She asked me why story always begins with "once upon a time" but there is more than one stories she can find in the story. Then, I told her that you should count how many stories you can find out, and change "once" to twice, thrice...

My question is that, if we replace "once" with "twice" or "some number adverbs", will it make audience feel tedious or bored because they have been told how many stories would likely to happen?

  • 3
    I think you misunderstand what "Once upon a time" means. It is an idiom that means "a long time ago" where how long ago this story (or stories) happened is unspecified or unimportant.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 28, 2015 at 22:18
  • 2
    Before you teach the chant to your sister, be sure to get the grammar right. Corrections are in bold: "Once upon a time, there was a little kitty whose name was Hello Kitty, who fell in love with a Japanese melody."
    – Ben Kovitz
    Jan 28, 2015 at 22:20
  • @ColleenV Your comment is really the answer!
    – Ben Kovitz
    Jan 28, 2015 at 22:22
  • Twice upon a time would imply that the story I'm about to hear happened twice. Presumably, it only happened once.
    – J.R.
    Dec 11, 2018 at 15:56

2 Answers 2


When you introduce a statement with "Once," you're saying that the statement was true at one time. You're not saying that only one statement was ever true.

I can say "Once, I was a great singer." to mean "There was a period of time where I was a great singer."

I can say "Once, my town was invaded by flying rabbits." to mean "There was an occasion where my town was invaded by flying rabbits."

It just means that the statement was true at one time.

"Upon a time..." is a way of saying "at a particular time" or "on a particular occasion". It's not in common use; if you use it in regular speech, it sounds strange or archaic.

The phrase "Once upon a time, ..." is a set phrase that uses both "Once" and "upon a time" to introduce a fairy tale or legend or myth. It's so common that people don't even think about the component parts of the phrase. They just read it as a formula that means "In a fairy tale..."

(Really, it should be "Once, upon a time, ..." with commas after both "once" and "upon a time", but in practice people never include the first comma, and only sometimes include the second.)


Once in "Once upon a time" does not refer to the number of stories a person tells. It is part of the set phrase once upon a time which indicates that what you talk about next is in the genre of a fairy tale.

In addition, individual stories have sub-plots, or smaller stories within the main story. So a story can have many stories in it. Of course, the plot of a fairy tale is not usually that complicated. But in "Jack and the Beanstalk" one could say that Jack's trip to the market is a subplot of the entire story.

To say Twice upon a time or Thrice upon a time would be a departure from the usual phrase, but not impossible. But it would not necessarily mean what you think it might mean.

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