Anonymous asked in Society & CultureLanguages · 1 decade ago

What's the differences between "be surprised at " and "be surprised by"?

I torn between the use of "at" and "by" as a foreigner.


thank you for all of you. However how can I select one of the answers? where is the button for my choice.

5 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    A tricky one to explain, but very broadly, 'to be surprised at' suggests something has happened contrary to the way you expected, 'to be surprised by' suggests something you were not expecting at all.

    'I was surprised at John; I never expected him to tell lies'.

    'I was surprised by John - he took me out for dinner to celebrate my birthday'

    As one person has said, they are largely interchangeable but the expression 'to be surprised at someone' - often expressing disappointment with their behaviour - is usually always with 'at' rather than 'by'.

  • RE
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    They can be synonyms, but there is a shade of difference.

    When you say

    I was surprised by his behavior

    it is the passive voice, like saying

    his behavior surprised me, or

    his behavior took me by surprise.

    When you say

    I am surprised at you

    there is slightly more of a judgmental cast to it,

    implying that you had expected better from him.

    And then of course there is the original meaning.

    The army was surprised by the snipers lying in wait for them.

  • Rose
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    I was surprised at something that I saw or experienced.

    I was surprised by something that happened to me.

    In both cases, the main part of the sentence is

    'I was surprised".

    Whichever adjective follows, by or at, will not alter the grammatical structure, or meaning, of the following clauses.

  • 1 decade ago

    when you use "at" it usually referring to a place or time like for instance, "at the mall", "at home" or "at 7 am". and when you use "by" indicates spatial relationship like "beside it' for example, "a house by the sea". it also indicates a person or people who did a certain action like "written by ana", "composed by the jonas brothers"... so when you say "be surprised at" it talks about a place (be surprised at home.) and "be surprised by" it says he/she is surprised by someone (be surprised by my mom).

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  • 1 decade ago

    I learned it as, "I was surprised at the movie's outcome."

    "I was surprised by Maria when she popped out of the closet."

    But, I think they can be interchangeable. "I was surprised by the movie's outcome," still sounds okay.

    Source(s): Fluent in English since I was 14
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