Once upon a time

Stories in English, particulary those for children, often start with ‘Once upon a time’ or something similar, such as ‘A long time ago in a land far away’. They usually end with ‘…and they lived happily ever after.’ or something similar.

In Irish stories typically start with Fadó, fadó’ (a long, long time ago), Welsh stories start with ‘un tro’ (one time), while Japanese stories often begin with ‘昔々’ (mukashi mukashi), or ‘a long, long time ago’.

What about in other languages?

This entry was posted in Language.

26 Responses to Once upon a time

  1. Declan says:

    Stories (not the written ones) sometimes start with “Uaireanta” or “Uair amháin” as well as fadó, fadó.

    By the way liathroid is a ball, not Bál. To Irish speakers that is considered “Bearlacus”.

  2. Bill Walsh says:

    German tends to say, Es war einmal “there once was” or some variant thereof.

    German also has a lovely way to end fairy tales. It’s und wenn sie nicht gestorben sind, leben sie noch heute. “And if they haven’t died, then they’re still alive today.” :\

  3. Weili says:

    In Chinese it would probably be 從前 / 从前 congqian, which means something like “once upon a time”.

  4. Podolsky says:

    Russian fairy tales usually begin with “zhili-byli” (in plural) or “zhil da byl” (singular masculine) = there lived and was.
    In Hebrew the beginning is “hayo haya/hayu” (sg./pl.) = being there was…

  5. TJ says:

    In Arabic usually it starts with “Kaan yaamaa kaan, fee qadeem ezzamaan” meaning “there was, how many there was, in the old times” !

  6. pni says:

    Once upon a time in Finnish is “Olipa kerran” and in Swedish “Det var en gång”.

  7. T-Moor says:

    As to the Uzbek fairy tales, we usually say: “Bor ekanda, yo’q ekan”, which means “There was and there wasn’t”!

  8. Sean Flanagan says:

    In Russian, they begin “Жили были…” (zhyli byli) which means something along the lines of “there lived, there was” (plural in this case, but can be singular masculine or feminine depending on the protagonist(s) of the story).
    Persian fairy tales begin ” یکی بود یکی نبود” (yeki bud, yeki nabud) which, like Uzbek, means “There was and there wasn’t”.

  9. SamD says:

    The French version would be “Il etait une fois…” with an acute accent mark over the “e” in “etait.”

  10. anònim says:

    In catalan: “Temps era temps…” and “… i foren feliços i menjaren anissos.”

  11. Logan says:

    In Hungarian it goes “Hol volt, hol nem volt, volt egyszer…” (literally “where there was, where there wasn’t, there once was…”).

  12. Logan says:

    Oops — almost forgot the ending. It’d be “és boldogan éltek, amíg meg nem haltak” (“and they will happily until their deaths”).

  13. Laci the Hun says:

    Logan exactly 😀
    in Esperanto it goes like: ” Ĉu estis, ĉu ne estis…”

  14. renato says:

    in portuguese is “era uma vez”

  15. May I point out a typo in the title of this post? I believe you meant “Once upon a time”.

  16. TJ says:

    🙂 Simon is a busy guy you know! I believe he forgot his fingers typing on the keyboard while doing something else in the same time!!! :>

  17. This discussion over at the Wordreference forum (not a member, just Googled it) has some more fairy tale phrases, some in languages we’ve covered, others in languages we haven’t:


    (Can’t vouch for accuracy on most of these)

  18. Dennison says:

    Hm.. I’m not sure how it’s said in Tagalog, but I know there’s a Filipino movie named “Wansapanataym” which came out in 1999. Just thought I’d share that. 🙂

  19. Aeneas says:

    I’ll throw in the one I know:
    In Italian, they like to say “C’era una volta…” which I think is a direct translation of the French “Il etait une fois…”

  20. Thomas says:

    In slovene, most tales usually start with something down the lines of “Za devetimi gorami in za devetimi vodami…” meaning “Beyond nine mountains and beyond nine waters…”. There is some other way of starting tales, but I don’t recall it right now. The ending usually was “In tako so srečno živeli do konca svojih dni.”, meaning “And so they lived happily until the end of their days.”

  21. T-Moor says:

    Also forgot to mention that Tajik fairy tales begin”yak budasu, yak nabudas) which, like Uzbek and Persian, means “There was and there wasn’t”.

  22. Hugo says:

    In Dutch, it is “Er was eens…” (There once was…) and ending with “…en ze leefden nog lang en gelukkig.” (…and they lived on happily and long.)

  23. random says:

    In portuguese, tales usually start with “Era uma vez…” (something close to “There was a time…”) and end with “…e viveram felizes para sempre” (the same as “…and they lived happily ever after”).

  24. Quike says:

    In castellano “Erase una vez…” o “Hace mucho tiempo…” and they usually end with “… y fueron felices y comieron perdices.”

  25. Spencer Nephi says:

    I my language which isn’t on this site we begin our stories with

    “weetis ahruh arah’i” = Along time ago there was…..

    The language is Ute or “Nu-ahpahgi” from the Northern Ute Tribe in Northeastern Utah..It is in the Uncompahgre dialect.

    Just thought I’d contribute another Native Language insigt to your site.

  26. rahul says:

    In my language (malayalam) we start with “Oridathoridathoru”
    => In a place (repeated twice) there was one

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