The question is on "Une fois" as found in this passage from Camus's The Stranger.

Il y a eu aussi les cigarettes. Quand je suis entré en prison, on m’a pris ma ceinture, mes cordons de souliers, ma cravate et tout ce que je portais dans mes poches, mes cigarettes en particulier. Une fois en cellule, j’ai demandé qu’on me les rende. Mais on m’a dit que c’était défendu.


English translators have translated "Une fois" as if it meant the English "once" as follows.

Stuart Gilbert:

Once I had been given a cell to myself I asked to be given back, anyhow, the cigarettes.

Matthew Ward:

Once I was in my cell, I asked to have them back.

Which of the following is the case?

(a) The French original only says that the request for cigarettes happened "one time" while the prisoner was in his cell, not twice or three times. It could have happened weeks after he got into the cell. The English translators are adding new content (not found in Camus) based on their understanding of smoker psychology (i.e. he'll want a cigarette as soon as he got into the cell).

(b) There is a usage of French "Une fois" that corresponds to the English "once" and may suggest (without relying on smoker psychology) that the two events, getting into the cell and asking for cigarettes, were in a rapid succession.

1 Answer 1


Yes, you are right when you say that “once” and “une fois” are cognates. The right interpretation is your interpretation (b).

From the Larrouse online,

Une fois, une fois que, marquent le moment à partir duquel va commencer une action ou un état : Une fois couché, il s'endormit.

In my point of view, une fois and une fois que convey exactly the same meaning, but the grammatical construction is bit different because of the “que”.

Une fois en cellule.

would become

Une fois qu'il fût en cellule.

Here are some sentences that can match your interpretation (a):

  • Après qu'il fût mis en cellule, il ne demanda qu'une seule fois à récupérer ses cigarettes.
  • Une fois en cellule, il tenta de récupérer ses cigarettes, une (seule) fois.
  • une fois que involves that an action is either from the past or the future, on the other hand, une fois involves present action. So they're exactly the same but apply to different context of time.
    – cram2208
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 12:08
  • @cram2208, I beg to disagree. While not as frequent as Tu comprendas quand tu seras grand. I cannot see any problems with Tu comprendras une fois [que tu seras] grand. Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 12:41
  • @变幻出没 I agree that this construction works in French, but it still implies that the action is in the future. In that case, because the verb is omitted, it would clearly not work to use que. que is always tied to a verb so it is simply a logical move not to include it if the verb is omitted. What I don't get is that you could not make that sentence without the que in the verbal equivalent, so how is my first statement wrong. Maybe a lack of precision, but that's about it.
    – cram2208
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 12:51
  • @cram2208, sorry I am absolutely not sure to understand what you said (too much of this/that/it to be sure to what they refer). Did your point is that the part that I put into [] is in fact just no more than an omition. (You could also write it in French it should be easier for both of us) Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 13:01
  • @cram2208 The great majority of the hits I get with “une fois que” are in the past or future (especially the future perfect/anterior), which supports your observation. I do, however, also get quite a few hits for “Une fois qu’il/elle se lance [+ a clause in the present tense]” which, in light of the use of the present tense in both clauses, could arguably be seen as stating a present fact/state of affairs. Is this particular use of the indicative present tense of “se lancer” with “une fois que” simply incorrect or if not, is there some other explanation for it that jives with your observation?
    – Papa Poule
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 16:57

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