The effects of aliphatic sugar alcohols (e.g., threitol, xylitol, sorbitol) on the hydration of tricalcium silicate (C3S) and ordinary portland cement (OPC) were investigated and compared with those of sucrose, a well-established cement set retarder. Only sugar alcohols which contain threo diol functionality retarded the setting of C3S and OPC, their efficacy increasing with the number of threo hydroxy pairs and, to a smaller extent, with the overall population of hydroxy groups. None, however, were as effective as sucrose. The initial and final setting times increased exponentially with the concentration of saccharide, although the hydration of OPC was less inhibited than that of C3S. Saccharides function as “delayed accelerators,” that is, cement hydration is first inhibited and then proceeds faster than in saccharide-free cement. This behavior is consistent with the theory that the induction period is controlled by slow formation and/or poisoning of the stable calcium silicate hydrate (CSH) nuclei. The early inhibiting influence of saccharides on CSH precipitation is apparently stronger than on the growth of crystalline calcium hydroxide. Saccharides did not negatively affect the degree of hydration and compressive strength of fully set OPC paste; on the contrary, sorbitol yielded modest increases.