Barszczow A. N. (orpheus_samhain) wrote in linguaphiles,
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ENGLISH: had scarcely become King than...

I wanted to ask if this construction has any name:

Francis had scarcely become King than he turned his eyes upon Italy, [...]

from the preface to the Heptameron by Margaret, Queen of Navarre.
Tags: english, grammar english
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  • 16 comments

steepholm

May 17 2014, 16:07:04 UTC 7 months ago

I call it "wrong" when I come across it in student essays (I'm in the UK), since it seems to me to call for a "when" where that "than" should be. The "than" seems to call for a different phrase: No sooner had Francis become King than he turned his eyes upon Italy [...]

sollersuk

May 17 2014, 16:18:25 UTC 7 months ago

Agreed (also UK)

orpheus_samhain

May 17 2014, 16:22:31 UTC 7 months ago

Heh, thank you. I've seen the one you mentioned. Does it have any name, in case I'd like to look for it in a grammar book?

and that preface was written in England, in 1894, if I read this: MDCCCXCIV correctly.

steepholm

May 17 2014, 16:25:30 UTC 7 months ago

I'm afraid I don't know whether it has a name - sorry! (And in my first reply "should be" should be "is", of course. Sigh.)

orpheus_samhain

May 17 2014, 16:28:27 UTC 7 months ago

Thank you!

dorsetgirl

May 17 2014, 19:56:00 UTC 7 months ago

I agree it should be "scarcely ... when", not 'than'. No idea what it's called.

Native English speaker, England.

orpheus_samhain

May 18 2014, 00:07:38 UTC 7 months ago

Thank you!

whswhs

May 17 2014, 16:25:24 UTC 7 months ago

If I wanted a sentence with that protasis, I would introduce the apodosis with before or when, depending on the precise intended meaning. The word "than" is used mainly in making comparisons of quantity, magnitude, or intensity (as of value or motivation: Richard Lovelace cared more for honor than for Lucasta). I don't think the translator's English is quite idiomatic.

orpheus_samhain

May 17 2014, 16:31:21 UTC 7 months ago

Thank you!

come_to_think

May 18 2014, 00:37:35 UTC 7 months ago

I agree with those who prefer "scarcely...when" & "no sooner...than"; "scarcely...than" looks like an illogical mixture to me. However, this question was discussed very acrimoniously on alt.usage.english recently. Descriptivists apparently consider it impious to apply logic to usage.

dorsetgirl

May 18 2014, 06:50:58 UTC 7 months ago

Thanks for the url - I may have a look there later. From what little I know of it, I'm not convinced I see the point of the "descriptive" approach. People say a lot of things, but that doesn't make them sound right or convey the message they meant to convey.

fencer_x

May 18 2014, 09:16:22 UTC 7 months ago

I've no idea what it's called, but I guess I'm in the minority who not only thinks there's nothing wrong with it, I've seen it in quite a bit of literature before? I understand it exactly, and while it strikes me as a bit old-fashioned, I wouldn't bat an eye at it.

fencer_x

May 18 2014, 09:18:08 UTC 7 months ago

Also, it occurs to me that this ONLY works in this sentence order. If it were switched, you'd have to use "when" (He turned his eyes on Italy when he had only just/scarcely become king.)

orpheus_samhain

May 18 2014, 12:24:29 UTC 7 months ago

I understood it all right, even if I'm not a native speaker. Although it's the first time I've seen this kind of a construction.

tristissima

May 18 2014, 17:30:41 UTC 7 months ago

It's right to my ear but not to my head. I feel like it might/should be "then" rather than "than" . . . . When did those words differentiate?

orpheus_samhain

May 20 2014, 00:26:34 UTC 7 months ago

Yes, I thought about this version with 'then', too :)

Sadly, I don't know when they parted ways.