Definition 2023


at once


Alternative forms


at once (not comparable)

  1. (obsolete) In one group; together.
  2. (idiomatic) At the same time; simultaneously.
    Can you pat your head and rub your belly at once?
    He tried to eat four cookies at once.
    • 2013 August 10, Lexington, “Keeping the mighty honest: A new wave of press barons should not allow newspapers to become niche products”, in The Economist, volume 408, number 8848:
      The [Washington] Post's proprietor through those turbulent [Watergate] days, Katharine Graham, held a double place in Washington’s hierarchy: at once regal Georgetown hostess and scrappy newshound, ready to hold the establishment to account.
    • 2014 September 26, Tom Payne, “Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, review: 'urgent questions' [print version: The story of our species, 27 September 2014, p. R32]”, in The Daily Telegraph (Review):
      [T]he book, constructed in short, lucid episodes, can be satisfyingly read as a sequence of provocative talks, at once well informed and vatic.
  3. (idiomatic) Immediately; now; right away.
    Tell the doctor to come at once. She is having a baby.
    • 1898, Winston Churchill, chapter 4, in The Celebrity:
      Mr. Cooke at once began a tirade against the residents of Asquith for permitting a sandy and generally disgraceful condition of the roads. So roundly did he vituperate the inn management in particular, and with such a loud flow of words, that I trembled lest he should be heard on the veranda.
    • 1918, W. B. Maxwell, chapter 3, in The Mirror and the Lamp:
      One saint's day in mid-term a certain newly appointed suffragan-bishop came to the school chapel, and there preached on “The Inner Life.”  He at once secured attention by his informal method, and when presently the coughing of Jarvis […] interrupted the sermon, he altogether captivated his audience with a remark about cough lozenges being cheap and easily procurable.
    • 1963, Margery Allingham, chapter 19, in The China Governess:
      As soon as Julia returned with a constable, Timothy, who was on the point of exhaustion, prepared to give over to him gratefully. The newcomer turned out to be a powerful youngster, fully trained and eager to help, and he stripped off his tunic at once.