Today’s English idiom: Once a…, Always a…

Hey guys!

Ages ago we discussed celebrities (ok, not ages ago, but about 6 months ago).

A fantastic idiom came up:

“Once a(n) ___, always a(n) ___.”

I didn’t get a chance to go into this one in detail during the lesson, so I wanted to write about it here on my blog!  Hope it’s useful.

First off, how do we use this expression?

Once a(n) N1, always a(n) N1.

N1 represents a noun.  As you can see, we use the same noun in both parts of the expression.


  • Once a liar, always a liar.
  • Once a father, always a father.
  • Once a criminal, always a criminal.

You may also have noticed that it is basically a very long interjection.  In other words, it’s not actually a sentence, but we do not use it in a sentence either.  It is used by itself.

It can be used with adjectives, though it usually isn’t.


  • Once a stinking criminal, always a stinking criminal.
  • Once a bad boyfriend, always a bad boyfriend.

Ok, so that’s how to use it correctly.  But what does it mean?  When is it used?

It is used to refer to a person, people or people in general.  It means that as soon as a person becomes something, they cannot escape that identity.


Okay… that’s not very clear is it?  Let’s take a look at an example to see.

“Once a liar, always a liar.”

The speaker must be referring to at least one person, but s/he may be referring to several people, or people in general.  He means this:

“If someone becomes a liar, they will always be a liar.  There is nothing they can do to change that.  Even if they only lie once, they will still be a liar for the rest of their lives.”

There is another way in which it is used.  The expression is also used as a warning or declaration of predicted future behavior.


Umm… so what does that mean?

Well, let’s look at the same example:

“Once a liar, always a liar.”

This expression is often used by a speaker to a listener to warn the listener about the behavior of someone else.  It may be, for example, about a friend of the listener’s.  In this case it means:

“Your friend lied to you.  That means s/he will definitely lie to you again.  If someone lies once, they will always continue to do it.”

Here is another example

“Once a surfer, always a surfer.”

The speaker is saying that after someone becomes a surfer, they will love or enjoy it so much they will never stop being a surfer.

As you can see, the expression is much shorter!

So when would a native speaker use such an expression?  Let’s see.

“My son is now an 18-year-old man… It may sound odd, perhaps not, but a part of me mourns his childhood. Those beautiful moments of innocent wonder are gone forever… But that makes me no less a dad. No matter what the future holds: once a father, always a father. Your heart is forever involved and nothing on heaven or on Earth will change that.” (slightly edited, here is the original text).

Here is another example:

A: “I can’t believe he lied to me about that.”

B: “I know.  It’s terrible.  You should really break up with him.”

A: “Break up with him?  But I love him!”

B: “Well, you know what they say: once a liar, always a liar.”

A: “Yeah, I know…”

I hope that helps!  If you have any questions about this expression, let me know!





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