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  1. #11
    Clark is offline Key Member
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    Re: to be suprised at or to be suprised by...

    Quote Originally Posted by David L. View Post
    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, 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.
    Let me check if I understood you right.
    I had never thought about the matter, so I was surprised by what had happened.
    I had thought the matter would have a different outcome, so I was surprised at what had happened.

    1. Assume you expected a person to arrive, but you didn't expect him to arrive so early. What would you choose to say:
    I was surprised by/at his early arrival.

    2. Assume you didn't expect a person to arrive. What would you choose to say:
    I was surprised by/at his arrival.

  2. #12
    mikko4 is offline Junior Member
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    Re: to be suprised at or to be suprised by...

    So if somthing happens which I totally don't expect like:

    e.g. I have a friend who has made it clear on a few occasions that he loves nature, all animals and then all of a sudden I see him killing an insect. I say
    'I am suprised/shocked at your behaviour my friend.

    but if my friend has a neutral attitude towards nature (never stated his opinion on it) then I should say I am suprised by your reaction.

    ???

    What should I say here:
    It's Monday. I am in the pub where I usually go on Mondays. The door opens and my boss, who I have never seen in this pub, comes in and sits next to me. I have always thought of him as of a rich man who doesn't go to such a places like pubs, bars and therefore consider him the least probable person to see in the pub on Monday evening.
    I say 'I was suprised at seeing him in the pub.

    but If it wasn't my boss but my friend who I have seen in the pub a few times, though not recently. I say: I was suprised by his arrival in the pub because it had been a lot time since I saw him there last time.

    ???

    Not sure whether I made myself grammatically correct in this post. If so pls correct me. Thanks

  3. #13
    rj1948 is offline Senior Member
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    Re: to be suprised at or to be suprised by...

    Quote Originally Posted by mikko4 View Post
    So if somthing happens which I totally don't expect like:

    e.g. I have a friend who has made it clear on a few occasions that he loves nature, all animals and then all of a sudden I see him killing an insect. I say
    'I am suprised/shocked at your behaviour my friend.

    but if my friend has a neutral attitude towards nature (never stated his opinion on it) then I should say I am suprised by your reaction.

    ???

    What should I say here:
    It's Monday. I am in the pub where I usually go on Mondays. The door opens and my boss, who I have never seen in this pub, comes in and sits next to me. I have always thought of him as of a rich man who doesn't go to such a places like pubs, bars and therefore consider him the least probable person to see in the pub on Monday evening.
    I say 'I was suprised at seeing him in the pub.

    but If it wasn't my boss but my friend who I have seen in the pub a few times, though not recently. I say: I was suprised by his arrival in the pub because it had been a lot time since I saw him there last time.

    ???

    Not sure whether I made myself grammatically correct in this post. If so pls correct me. Thanks
    In this context, surprised at is used quite often.
    Source:Cambridge Dictionary.
    Regards,
    rj1948.
    Kindly ignore the next post.

  4. #14
    rj1948 is offline Senior Member
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    Re: to be suprised at or to be suprised by...

    Quote Originally Posted by mikko4 View Post
    So if somthing happens which I totally don't expect like:

    e.g. I have a friend who has made it clear on a few occasions that he loves nature, all animals and then all of a sudden I see him killing an insect. I say
    'I am suprised/shocked at your behaviour my friend.

    but if my friend has a neutral attitude towards nature (never stated his opinion on it) then I should say I am suprised by your reaction.

    ???

    What should I say here:
    It's Monday. I am in the pub where I usually go on Mondays. The door opens and my boss, who I have never seen in this pub, comes in and sits next to me. I have always thought of him as of a rich man who doesn't go to such a places like pubs, bars and therefore consider him the least probable person to see in the pub on Monday evening.
    I say 'I was suprised at seeing him in the pub.

    but If it wasn't my boss but my friend who I have seen in the pub a few times, though not recently. I say: I was suprised by his arrival in the pub because it had been a lot time since I saw him there last time.

    ???

    Not sure whether I made myself grammatically correct in this post. If so pls correct me. Thanks
    In this context, surprised at is used.
    Source:Cambridge Dictionary.
    Regards,
    rj1948.

  5. #15
    Clark is offline Key Member
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    Re: to be suprised at or to be suprised by...

    Mikko4, I think of all this as a hypothesis. It has to be verified. We could try to create so-called diagnostic sentences which would offer a choice between the two prepositions. After we have conducted a survey and got the data we would need to analyse them and decide whether the results confirm the idea or not. This is called verification procedure. Without it it's all, like I said, a hypothesis, though a very interesting one. Working out a rule is not an easy job.

  6. #16
    mikko4 is offline Junior Member
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    Re: to be suprised at or to be suprised by...

    Let me just ask you this, because it seems to me that there is a differernce between the expressioms to be suprised at/by sth but it is not so big. (at least i dare to say ) So if I said to a normal native speaker, by normal I mean that he or she is not a teacher, that I was suprised by (whitout considering at as an option) what he or she had done. Is there a chance that I could offend him or her.

    Another thing that bothers me is that who makes all the exams that we, ELS learner take ??? because for instance this question is from the Internet :

    I was surprised ____ his reaction to the problem.
    They were surprised ____their good fortune.

    both without any context...

    What would you choose if you were given an exam with these two questions?

    The internet states that right answer to 1st is by and to 2nd is at.

    How the hell do they know ??


  7. #17
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    Re: to be suprised at or to be suprised by...

    1. Assume you expected a person to arrive, but you didn't expect him to arrive so early. What would you choose to say:
    I was surprised by/at his early arrival.

    2. Assume you didn't expect a person to arrive. What would you choose to say:
    I was surprised by/at his arrival.


    1. There is not much of a surprise here really either way. But say, this person is notorious for turning up incredibly late for dates and appointments. And then he arrives for your dinner party earlier. Then you are pleasantly surprised/shocked at his early arrival - you were anticipating him to be his usual tardy self.

    2. The way you have phrased it, I can't see much of a surprise if they did arrive - "Oh, that's nice, you were able to come after all!"
    But say the Queen comes to town, and I have a cafe, and spontaneously she wants to visit a local business and so ends her walk-about by calling into my cafe. Then I am surprised by the Queen's visit - who would have thought little old me would ever meet the Queen.

    For someone to be 'surprised at' the Queen's visit, then they would have to hold that royalty should maintain a polite distance from the commoner. A wave and a handshake on the street maybe, but not going into plebeian establishments...or heaven forbid, their domiciles. That the Queen did so, then the person is shocked at the Queen's behaviour and further signs of erosion of the Class division.

    I'll get round to Mikko4's sentences after I've had a break. I need to do some gardening.

  8. #18
    Clark is offline Key Member
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    Re: to be suprised at or to be suprised by...

    Thanks, David. Well, that confirms your idea in the previous post.
    Mikko4, from what David says it follows that:

    'I was surprised by his reaction to the problem' implies that you hadn't expected him to react at all.
    'I was surprised at his reaction to the problem' implies that you had expected him to react differently.

    Mikko4, there is no need to get emotional. I don't think that a sentence like that will be included in your test. If a test sentence allows different interperetations, it is considered to be defective. By the way, this very sentence (I was surprised at/by his reaction) is given in Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture with two variants (surprised at / by), without any explanation of how to distinguish between them.

  9. #19
    mikko4 is offline Junior Member
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    Re: to be suprised at or to be suprised by...

    I didn't mean to sound emotional. I'm sorry if I was rude or if I somehow accused you of something. Believe me it wasn't my intention. In fact I really appreciate the work that you are all doing here on this forum. I was just trying to tell that it is not easy to study a language. And since I hava an entrance examination in a week I'm running out of time. And while I was doing excercices on the internet I bumped into these two questions that I mentioned earlier and this was a reason why I started this thread here. To find out what was correct. And you can imagine that now when I know of the complexity of the problem and that I'm aware of the the fact that native speaker teachers are having a debate about what is correct does not make me feel any better.

    But I'm not saying it is your fault nor that you are a bad teacher. I understand the complexity of the problem. I myself has once tried to explain to a foreigner a phrase typical for my country and I know it's more difficult than it seems.

    But let's get back to the point.

    'I was surprised by his reaction to the problem' implies that you hadn't expected him to react at all.
    'I was surprised at his reaction to the problem' implies that you had expected him to react differently.
    I can say I completely understand this one.

    So thanks for your time and help

  10. #20
    Clark is offline Key Member
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    Re: to be suprised at or to be suprised by...

    Quote Originally Posted by mikko4 View Post
    I didn't mean to sound emotional. I'm sorry if I was rude or if I somehow accused you of something. Believe me it wasn't my intention. In fact I really appreciate the work that you are all doing here on this forum. I was just trying to tell that it is not easy to study a language. And since I hava an entrance examination in a week I'm running out of time. And while I was doing excercices on the internet I bumped into these two questions that I mentioned earlier and this was a reason why I started this thread here. To find out what was correct. And you can imagine that now when I know of the complexity of the problem and that I'm aware of the the fact that native speaker teachers are having a debate about what is correct does not make me feel any better.

    But I'm not saying it is your fault nor that you are a bad teacher. I understand the complexity of the problem. I myself has once tried to explain to a foreigner a phrase typical for my country and I know it's more difficult than it seems.

    But let's get back to the point.

    I can say I completely understand this one.

    So thanks for your time and help
    I understand your feelings. It's just examination jitters.
    By starting this thread you've raised a very interesting problem, and we are thankful to you for that.
    It looks the opposition of 'by' vs. 'at' with the participle 'surprised' can be interpreted as 'a fact as such vs. the content of a fact'. However, we need David who came up with this idea and who as a native speaker has a final say in this discussion to confirm this concept.

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