I was looking at prepositions with my student, and they asked why the sentence:

'I am surprised that how much money they want to pay him.'

is incorrect.

As a native speaker I know that it would be better to say:

'I am surprised by how much money they want to pay him.'

but I am not sure why 'surprised that' can't be followed by 'how much'. If anyone could shed some light on the rules about when 'surprised that' can and can't be used, it would be very helpful.

  • Not sure if this is correct, but I am surprised that- seems to precede a complete phrase. For example "(I am surprised that) you gave him the money". In this case, "You gave him the money" is a complete statement, whereas "how much money they want to pay him" isn't. Sep 15, 2020 at 14:28

2 Answers 2


It is incorrect because after "surprised" you use a preposition if you want to introduce a nominal element and not a conjunction ("that" is a conjunction). The prepositions you can use with this adjective are "at" and "by" (ref.).

  • I am surprised at how much money they want to pay him. (in increasing use since about 1970)
  • I am surprised by how much money they want to pay him. (in increasing use since about 1980)

In this context, that is “a conjunction used to refer to something that has been mentioned or was involved earlier, or to something that is already known about” cambridge dictionary

When acting as conjunction, that introduces a clause with a verb. To refer to “how much money ...” neither refers to any defined thing nor to a clause with a verb. Better would be “that they wanted to pay him so much money”.

  • 1
    In this context 'that' after ' surprised' leads us to expect a reported statement: the fact that surprised you. But after 'that' comes 'how many' , an adjectival phrase, which is used in reported questions and leads us to think this is a reported question. It is obvious what is being said, but it comes to the reader like a discord in a piece of music. Anton's alternative is correct, but I think the explanation is more like this.
    – Tuffy
    Sep 15, 2020 at 7:49
  • I am glad that you dealt with the unexpected and unwelcome feelings of a question. When I wrote, I could not find words to express it so well.
    – Anton
    Sep 15, 2020 at 8:43
  • You are mistaken in interpreting "used to introduce a clause that reports something or gives further information, although it can often be left out" as you do: the content of the clause is what is reported, is the further information. There is no function of reference in the conjunction "that". I suppose that it must be the relative pronoun "that" that is confusing you.
    – LPH
    Sep 15, 2020 at 12:24

You must log in to answer this question.