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There is a sentence:

No sooner had he sat down than he fell asleep.

I just do not understand, is this an inversion? And if so, I still do not understand the sentence.

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I am a Spanish speaker and this sentence makes a lot of sense to me, it may sound a little bit pedantic, pretentious or strange, but it´s simply a different way to emphasize an argument...it is exactly the same in Spanish, we also have (literally) the same expression. –  user23126 Jul 4 '12 at 11:23
    
Generally speaking I think this form of inversion is "literary" rather than spoken usage. Not necessarily "highbrow" literature - it's quite closely associated with books written for children. One variant that's not uncommon in speech is "No sooner said than done", but I think that particular one is something of a "set phrase". –  FumbleFingers Jul 4 '12 at 17:02
    
I'm curious if anyone else feels that it would roll of the tongue better if it was "no sooner had he sat down than he was asleep" rather than he fell. It's strange, they're both verbs, but somehow was seems more correct in this instance. –  Dr.Dredel Jul 4 '12 at 19:24

3 Answers 3

The negative no sooner is placed at the front of the clause for emphasis. This construction requires inversion, in which the auxiliary verb, in this case had, is placed before the subject. The unmarked version would be He had no sooner sat down than he fell asleep, and it means that he fell asleep immediately after sitting down.

Examples of other negative words that can be used in this way are at no time, not only, not once, hardly and seldom.

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No sooner than is another way of saying as soon as. I'm not a fan of this construction myself, but it is perfectly correct and fairly common.

I suspect that the author simply felt that

As soon as he (had) sat down, he fell asleep.

didn't sound sophisticated enough.

Edit: Note that if you write this sentence in the "as soon as" order, you have a choice of tenses: simple past tense ("As soon as he sat down"), or past perfect ("As soon as he had sat down"). The "no sooner than" construction requires the use of the past perfect - although it is grammatical to say "No sooner did he sit down than he fell asleep", it sounds incredibly odd.

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It simply means that he fell asleep immediately upon sitting down. Yes, 'had he sat' rather than 'he had sat' is an inversion of the standard word order. It occurs after 'No sooner'.

Think of it as a set expression: No sooner had someone [done (something)] (than) [something happened]. As a matter of style, I am happy to replace 'than' with a comma:

No sooner had he sat down, he fell asleep.
No sooner had the electrician left, the lights went out. Typical!

This construction seems a little pedantic for everyday use these days.

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I agree with your first paragraph and disagree with the last, those points being, to some extent, matters of opinion. On the other hand, the "replace than with a comma" advice is just plain wrong. –  jwpat7 Jul 4 '12 at 19:55

protected by RegDwigнt Jul 5 '12 at 10:45

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