Surprised at/about/of/by

Cigar

New Member
Vietnamese
Hi, this is my first question on this board. I'm having some trouble distinguishing the differences between these words (mentioned on the title). Can someone explain the differences and give me some examples based on specific contexts? Thanks in advance.
 
  • Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    Welcome to the forum. :)

    Actually, it's you who gives us specific contexts -- it's one of our rules. (Rules in general; context in particular.) On English Only, we answer specific questions about words or phrases in a complete sentence with context and background.

    One approach you might consider is to have a look at our in context feature to find these expressions in contemporary context. Often seeing how they're used can help you decide how to use them yourself (or can at least give you sentences to ask about). Just put surprised at (and, later, the other variations) in the Search box at the top of the page and click the "in context" link. It's better than Google because you're getting more mainstream results.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    Welcome to the forum! This question has been discussed before. Have a look at those threads; you can find them by entering "surprised at/by" in the box at the top of the forum page, then hit the "search" button. If you still have a question, then come back and ask, giving us an example of what still puzzles you.
     

    Cigar

    New Member
    Vietnamese
    Oh, my bad. I'm really sorry. And thank you all for your advice and links. That help a lot.
    Based on those threads that Copyright gave me:
    1. I'm surprised at what you've done: Knowing what you've done surprises me.
    2. I'm surprised by what you've done: What you've done surprises me.
    Are these sentences true? How about:
    3. I'm surprised about what you've done.
    4. I'm surprised of how awesome it could be.
    What's the difference between 3 and 1 + 2. Can I use "at,by,about" in 4's context? Sorry if my examples are vague, I'm really clueless...
     

    WildWest

    Senior Member
    Turkish
    I was going to open a thread for this, but decided to ask my question in that thread. So I'm bringing it up again.

    A: Blair's been looking into Eva's past.
    B: Well, we can't be too surprised about that, can we?

    This dialogue belongs to Gossip Girl, as in some of my threads. What can we say about the usage of "about"?
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    What can we say about the usage of "about"?
    From an AmE perspective (as Gossip Girl is an American television series) we can say that:.

    • in COCA, about is the third most frequent prepositional collocate to surprised: by (2651), at (1925), about (120).
    • those 120 hits are distributed as follows: Spoken (80), Fiction (16), Magazine (6), Newspaper (29), Academic (10).
    • according to the Google Books Ngram Viewer (American English), surprised about has been on the rise since around 1970..
    But perhaps you were wondering about the meaning of surprised about, whether different from surprised at?

    In that case, I would think it's just register. Surprised at might seem a little more formal than surprised about. I'd say one could use either in the Gossip Girl sentence without any change of meaning.
     

    WildWest

    Senior Member
    Turkish
    Thanks for your reply.

    I always knew "at" or "by" can be used for the same situation, even if it's sometimes considered that there is a subtle difference. Seeing "about" used in a world-famous American TV series confused me.
     
    Last edited:

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    It's not clear what your query is, WildWest. Are you doubting the collocation's legitimacy?

    I notice some native English-speaking members have used surprised about in their replies over the years (mainly BrE speakers, in fact), the most recent submitted a couple of days ago: I'm not surprised about that, pops, because it is often claimed that AE doesn't possess [ɔ:].
     

    WildWest

    Senior Member
    Turkish
    It's not clear what your query is, WildWest. Are you doubting the collocation's legitimacy?

    I notice some native English-speaking members have used surprised about in their replies over the years (mainly BrE speakers, in fact), the most recent submitted a couple of days ago: I'm not surprised about that, pops, because it is often claimed that AE doesn't possess [ɔ:].
    (I was logging in through my mobile phone, hence I failed in completing my sentence properly)

    My question, as you said up there, is about the legitimacy of the collocation, indeed. Things get serious when it comes to those little prepositions that follow an adjective, and I just wanted to know if using "about" instead of "by" or "at" makes a difference. Considering his answer in an ordinary thread and the fact that the word "about" was used in a famous American TV series, the answers is apparently not. It doesn't matter which word you use. However, I guess it would still be the best if we take some native speakers' advice. Perhaps, they may have something else to say.
     
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