1. He was surprised with/at/by the news of the success of a poor candidate in the elections.

  2. I was surprised at/with/by the news.

  3. I was pleasantly surprised by/with/at her sudden appearance.

  4. I am surprised with/by/at her decision to quit her job.

I did a lot of research, what preposition "surprise" take. But end up with nothing. I couldn't find a definite answer. I have seen all preposition surprise with/by/at/about in sentences. But again, could not figure when to use which preposition. Can any one please explain what preposition we should use with "surprise".

Thank you

  • One can be surprised with flowers, at ones front door, by ones Significant Other. Feb 3, 2018 at 19:22

3 Answers 3


In general, some adjectives go with certain prepositions, but some adjectives can go with more than one preposition (and context will determine which preposition fits better, though in many cases the use of one preposition doesn't rule out other prepositions, as the meaning doesn't really change). With "surprised," I think it's safe to say that "by" and "at" are more common, but you'll also find "about" and "with." There is no fixed pattern; the more you read, the easier it becomes knowing which preposition to use (or not use).


In all of the examples you provided, the usual preposition in contemporary speech (that I'm familiar with) is "by". If something surprises you, then you are surprised by it.

However, other propositions are also in use, sometimes based on preference.

There are several discussions about this topic that you may find in a simple search of the web. Here are some examples:

  1. https://www.englishforums.com/English/SurprisedSurprisedAboutSurprised/jvjnb/post.htm
  2. https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/english/surprised?q=surprised
  3. https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/surprised-at-about-of-by.2252202/
  4. https://lingohelp.me/preposition-after-adjective/surprised-by-or-surprised-at/

All the three prepositions plus "about" can be used, according to the Google Ngram Viewer; although according to the online collocations dictionaries the prepositions "with" and "about" after the adjective "surprised" doesn't form a valid collocation--see here and here, for example.

So, a learner myself, I would follow the dictionaries.

In addition, if it were me to make the choice between "at" and "by" in writing, I'd go to the Google NGram's examples and input the word for what I got surprised by/at.

  • There's no significant difference between by and at in that phrase. It isn't because a dictionary says that the words don't collocate that you won't find them together often, but rather the opposite; i.e., words that can't be found together often won't be said to collocate by the dictionary.
    – user3395
    Mar 10, 2018 at 18:12

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .