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I'm told that to express something as "one day" in the future, it's 「有一天」. For example, 「我希望有一天能够说好华语。」"I hope that one day I can speak Chinese well."

Would you also use this to the English idiom "one day" in the past, such as "One day, the boy went for a walk"? Would that be something like 「有一天,这个男孩儿出去走了走。」?

Pardon the bad grammar.

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In English, it is equal to "some day". AFAIK, "some day" can also be used in both future and past contexts. Hope I am right in this case –  shuangwhywhy Sep 18 '13 at 17:04
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You wouldn't really say "Some day, I went to the movies" in English to refer to the past tense. But you would say, "One day, I went to the movies." In that sense, it seems more like "one day." Some day is in the future. "Some day, I will go to France." –  nickcoxdotme Sep 19 '13 at 14:41
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3 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Yes, `one day' can certainly be used to refer to events in the past as well.

A better translation of "One day, the boy went for a walk" could be "有一天, 那个男孩外出散步", or less literary, "那个男孩出门走路". "去了走路" is not grammatical, "去走路了" and "走路去了" are grammatical but do not fit in here.

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first of all, you are very good at Chinese. About 'one day', it refers to the day in the past if you forgot the specific date of that day. So it's an obscure phrase. On the other hand, it represents some day in the future when you don't want to point out which specific day. All in all, it's an obscure phrase. You should learn it by real life experience around Chinese,I suggest.

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Welcome to SE! Thanks for your enthusiasm. But before answering a question, I think it would be better to read other answers -- if you don't have something new to add, just click the up-vote button to the answer you agree with or just leave a comment. Have a nice time here :D –  Stan Sep 23 '13 at 9:12
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if it's about a real story, it's in the past.

in some other situation, it just mean 'one day':

如果有一天你需要我帮忙,请不要客气。

Please do not hesitate if you need my help.

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