Spanish expressions: “Un día…”, “una vez…”, “aquel día…”

spanish expressions un dia una vez 1

In Spanish, using time expressions to talk about past events is key. It helps listeners get an idea of the time period we are talking about and will make them stay engaged.

“Una vez”, “un día”, and “aquel día” are some Spanish phrases that help us tell stories and talk about past events. Even though we frequently use them to talk about routines or similar scenarios, they have way other several uses.

In this short article, we will explain how to use “una vez”, “un día”, and “aquel día” to tell stories, talk about past events and keep your audience engaged.

How to use “una vez”

“Una vez” is the Spanish equivalent of “once”.

When talking about routines we often use it to say how many times we do any activity in a day, a week, a month, and year, or even a lifetime.

However, if when you were a kid you were a big fan of stories, you probably heard that famous “once upon a time” or, in Spanish, “érase una vez”.

When telling stories and talking about past events, “una vez” helps us express that in the past, we did something.

This time expression doesn’t provide specific information but helps us emphasize that we did “something” and listeners will focus on what we “did”.

Let’s see the example below:

Una vez, estaba con mi familia en Aruba, fuimos a la playa y pasamos todo el día ahí.

Once, I was with my family in Aruba, we went to the beach and we spent the whole day there.

As you may realize, “una vez” helps us introduce the “story” we want to tell. In this case, what’s important is “estaba con mi familia en Aruba”. So, people will pay more attention to “una vez” and what comes right after than the rest of the sentence.

Since we use “una vez” to talk about past events, the verb that follows that expression must be conjugated in the past or past perfect tense.

Keep in mind that Spanish past tenses are “pretérito indefinido”, “pretérito pluscuamperfecto”, and “pretérito imperfecto”.

With “una vez”, we can’t use the past perfect because we use it to talk about actions that started in the past but continue in the present time.

Let’s see a few examples:

Una vez, fuimos al casino más grande de Las Vegas y nos ganamos el premio gordo.

Once, we went to the biggest casino in Las Vegas and hit the jackpot.

Una vez, estaba en un crucero con mi esposa y vimos la piscina más grande de nuestras vidas para cuando habíamos abordado.

Once, I was on a cruise with my wife and we saw the biggest pool of our lives by the time we boarded.

We can only use “una vez” at the beginning of the sentence because as we said it helps us introduce the story we want to tell. If we place “una vez” in the middle or at the end of the sentence, it will play the role of counting how many times we did something.

“Una vez” is invariable so it will stay the same. It doesn’t matter if we are using plural, singular, masculine, or feminine nouns.

How to use “un día”

The Spanish phrase “un día” has a similar use to “una vez”. The difference between these two phrases is that “un día” emphasizes that the action or event happened “in a day”.

With “un día”, we aren’t saying that the action or event lasted the whole day. Yet, it helps us make an emphasis.

Just like “una vez”, “un día” doesn’t provide specific information about the time period. As a result, what will help us set a reference will be the action following the expression “un día”.

Also, since we are talking about past events, we can only use verbs conjugated either in the past tense or the past perfect tense.

If you want to use “un día” to talk about past events, you will always start a statement with this phrase. Otherwise, it will express “how many days” something took to happen.

Let’s look at the examples below:

Un día, mi mamá y yo fuimos de compras a ese centro comercial.

One day, my mom and I went shopping at that mall.

Un día, comimos en ese restaurante y nos encantó la comida

One day, we ate at that restaurant and we loved the food.

Un día, hablé con mi jefe acerca del tema pero no concluimos nada.

One day, I talked to my boss about it but we didn’t conclude anything.

We can also use “un día” together with the verb “haber” conjugated in the past tense. That will emphasize even more that we are talking about a past event.

In this case, the structure of the sentence would be like the following sentence:

Hubo un día que/donde estábamos hablando y las horas se fueron volando.

There was a day that/when we were talking and the hours flew by.

As you may see, we combine “un día” with “hubo”, and “donde” or “que”.

“Donde” and “que” will play the role of conjunction and will help us connect the first part of the sentence, with the rest of it. Also, we don’t need to use a comma when we use the structure (“haber” + “un día” + “que”/”donde”).

How to use “aquel día”

“Aquel día” is another phrase that we use in a similar way to “una vez” and “un día”.

The difference between “aquel día” and the other alternatives is that we can use “aquel día” to talk about routines. We only use “aquel día” to talk about past events and it’s the Spanish equivalent of “that day”.

When we use “aquel día”, we highlight that an action or event happened a day in the past far from the present time. So, if you are talking about something that happened a long time ago, you would rather use “un día”.

In most cases, we use “aquel día” at the beginning of the sentence or right after the subject. However, we can also place “aquel día” after the main verb.

Here are some examples:

Aquel día en la disco, la pasé excelente. ¿Cuándo vamos de nuevo?

That day at the disco, I had an excellent time. When are we going again?

Nosotros, aquel día, fuimos al cine con los papás de Alfredo.

We, that day, went to the movies with Alfredo’s parents.

Hablamos, aquel día, de como ayudar a los más necesitados.

We talked, that day, about how to help those most in need.

Please note that when we use “aquel día” in the middle of the sentence, it should be between commas. Otherwise, we will make a grammar mistake.

When speaking, those commas indicate a short pause. Placing “aquel día” in the middle of the sentence makes emphasis on the time when the event happened.

Of course, we aren’t providing specific information about when the event happened. But, your audience will know it was a day in the past far from the present time.

Important expressions

In summary, “una vez”, “un día”, and “aquel día” will enhance your speaking and writing when talking about past events and telling stories.

Keep in mind that we use “una vez” and “un día” only to start a sentence and introduce a statement. In those cases, verbs must go conjugated in the past tense or past perfect tense.

On the other side, we can use “aquel día” to start a sentence, right after the subject, or after the main verb. If you´re a storyteller you can’t leave these phrases out of your toolbox.

So, keep practicing and improving your Spanish. With “una vez”, “un día”, and “aquel día”, keeping your audience engaged will no longer be a challenge.

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