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  1. #1
    mikko4 is offline Junior Member
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    Default to be suprised at or to be suprised by...

    Hi,
    what is correct ?

    They were suprised at/by their good fortune.

    I was suprised by/at his reaction to the problem.

    Could you please clarify for me when do I say I was suprised by/at... and give some other examples where both phrases are used.

    And if had made any mistake in this post please correct me.

    Thanks a lot.

  2. #2
    Clark is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: to be suprised at or to be suprised by...

    Quote Originally Posted by mikko4 View Post
    Hi,
    what is correct ?

    They were suprised at/by their good fortune.

    I was suprised by/at his reaction to the problem.

    Could you please clarify for me when do I say I was suprised by/at... and give some other examples where both phrases are used.

    And if had made any mistake in this post please correct me.

    Thanks a lot.
    Surprised at - joins the stimulus and the reaction into one scene. E.g. I was surprised at seeing her in my room.
    Surprised by - lays the stress on the factor that caused the surprise. E.g. I was surprised by her early arrival.

    I think depending on what you want to say, you can choose a preposition in your sentences. However, the first one sounds somewhat odd to me lexically.

  3. #3
    mikko4 is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: to be suprised at or to be suprised by...

    So then it is:

    I was suprised by his reaction
    and
    They were suprised at their good fortune.

    right ?

  4. #4
    Clark is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: to be suprised at or to be suprised by...

    Quote Originally Posted by mikko4 View Post
    So then it is:

    I was suprised by his reaction
    and
    They were suprised at their good fortune.

    right ?
    I was surprised at / by his reaction. Depends upon which element of the situation you want to lay the stress on.

    'At' in the second sentence is more likely. There is something about this sentence that makes me uncomfortable.

  5. #5
    mikko4 is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: to be suprised at or to be suprised by...

    I was suprised by her reaction.

    - this means, if I understand it right (which I doubt), that I was suprised that it was her who did something (reaction) and I wasn't suprised by her reaction.

    I was suprised at her reaction.


    - and this means as I understand it that I was suprised eaqually by the fact that it was her who did something (reaction) and also by her reaction (it was inappropriate...)

    I'm a little bit confused.

  6. #6
    Clark is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: to be suprised at or to be suprised by...

    Quote Originally Posted by mikko4 View Post
    I was suprised by her reaction.

    - this means, if I understand it right (which I doubt), that I was suprised that it was her who did something (reaction) and I wasn't suprised by her reaction.

    I was suprised at her reaction.


    - and this means as I understand it that I was suprised eaqually by the fact that it was her who did something (reaction) and also by her reaction (it was inappropriate...)

    I'm a little bit confused.
    Let's approach it from another angle.
    1. What did you feel when you saw his reaction to the news? - I was surprised at his reaction.
    2. I noticed you looked surprised at yesterday's party. What was it? - I was surprised by his reaction to the news.

  7. #7
    mikko4 is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: to be suprised at or to be suprised by...

    I'm sorry but I'm not following you. Could you make some rule for me or something like that as to when it is better to say suprised by/at so I can understand it.

    thank you

  8. #8
    Clark is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: to be suprised at or to be suprised by...

    'Surprised at' combines with 'seeing / hearing'. 'Surprised by' does not.
    e.g. I was surprised at hearing the news.

    And it's not a coincidence. I've already mentioned that 'surprised at' joins the stimulus and the reaction into one scene. And the speaker reconstructs this scene in his mind's eye as a dynamic picture. 'Surprised by' doesn't suggest such vision of a situation.

    Thus, I think every time you say 'surprised at smth' a gerund is implied.
    e.g. I was surprised at his reaction. = I was surprised at seeing his reaction.
    I was surprised at ther news. = I was surprised at hearing the news.

    Your question looks simple, but actually it's a very compex probelm. It would require looking deep into the semantics of these collocations to give a qualified solution to it.

  9. #9
    mikko4 is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: to be suprised at or to be suprised by...

    OK I think I finally understand your point and I do believe it's not the easy question. However I have to tell you I envy you, native speakers, because there is a lot of questions like this. And many of them we, students, have to face during exams. And as you say many times a right answer depends on what a person wants to say, but when I'm having an exam I cant just come to my teacher and say 'Look there's no correct answer. It depends on what that person wants to say...' so it's difficult...

    anyway thanks for your help.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: to be suprised at or to be suprised by...

    If I tell someone some very bad news, I can anticipate some emotional reaction, such as sadness, tears etc. But if they just shrug their shoulders, or if they laugh, then I would be surprised at their reaction - it was not what I had expected.

    What say I don't think I'm very popular at work. At morning tea one day, they all gather round and sing "Happy Birthday" and they've got a cake. I had no idea they would do this - I was surprised by their thoughtfulness- I was taken completely unawares.
    This is the same meaning when we say, "The cowboys were ambushed by the Indians" - the cowboys had no idea the Indians were lying in wait, ready to attack.

    If I said, "I was surprised at their thoughtfulness", then it would mean, I considered them self-centred, ungenerous souls and so would not expect any milk of human kindness from them - but they did! - so I am surprised at their action. It was the opposite of what I thought - I considered them a thoughtless lot who couldn't care less it was my birthday.

    "Hollywood surprised by Cruise/Kidman Split."
    versus
    "Hollywood surprised at Cruise/Kidman Split."
    Cruise and Kidman had been married for many years and seemed a perfect couple. No rumours of problems in the marriage. So Hollywood is shocked and taken by surprise when it is announced, the bomb shell is dropped - they are to split.
    compare
    Cruise and Kidman had been married for many years. They are both Scientologists. They had been seen rowing in public, and there had been rumours that they were seeing a Marriage Counsellor. But (say) Scientology is like Catholicism - they do not believe in divorce. So Hollywood expects they are just having a bumpy patch. But no - Hollywood is surprised at their decision to defy their Church and get a divorce. Even if not totally happy, they expected them to stick together because of the teachings of their 'religion'.

    Can you see the difference? Have a try, and we'll discuss further.
    Last edited by David L.; 10-Jun-2008 at 09:52.

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