Surprised at vs. Surprised by vs. Surprised to (Surprised + Infinitive)

How to use idioms with the participle "surprised" correctly

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The past participle surprised can be used with infinitives (verb forms beginning with to):

surprised to discover that he had left

One can be surprised by many things:

surprised by the attention she received

surprised by the sudden change in direction

In addition, one can be surprised at a person (or a person’s behavior, attitude, etc.) for not meeting your expectations. Usually this connotes an attitude of disappointment:

surprised at your disrespectful attitude

surprised at his sudden reluctance to help

Note that in the last two examples above, surprised by would also be acceptable, but it would not convey the connotation of disappointment as clearly; it would convey only the fact of the surprise.

Related Resources

Common Errors in English Usage: Errors in diction and idiom commonly made by native speakers of English

List of Common Errors in English Usage (PDF): Printable version of the complete list

Common Grammar Errors: A list of common errors in grammar (topics like subject-verb agreement and parallelism) as distinct from usage

List of Common Errors in English Usage: PDF version

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