I have difficulty understanding the difference between three sentences below:

Sue was surprised and said, “What the hell!”


Sue was surprised as she said, “What the hell!”


Sue said in surprise, “What the hell!”

My intuition tells me that in all of the three sentences above, the action of being surprised and the action of saying "What the hell!" happens "simultaneously."

I wonder how the simultaneity differ from each of three sentences?

The first sentence could either be understood as

Sue was surprised as she said, “What the hell!” Basically, its meaning is the same as the second sentence I have trouble with?


Sue acting surprised for a brief moment and then say "What..." and then again act surprised and then say "the..." The cycle continues until she finishes saying the whole phrase.

Which one is correct?

In the third sentence, based on my understanding, "in surprise" acts like an adverb, which explains how an action takes place, to "say." I'm not sure how it is different from the two other sentences. I have difficulty grasping the concept of adverbs.

  • Susan blurted out "What the hell" in surprise. Your wording is simply heavy.
    – Lambie
    Apr 11, 2021 at 19:57

2 Answers 2

  1. Sue was surprised and said, “What the hell!”
  2. Sue was surprised as she said, “What the hell!”
  3. Sue said in surprise, “What the hell!”

Sentence 1 implies a clear reaction. She was surprised, and after that (in response!) she said "what the hell!" The two events did not happen at the exact same instant; there is a 1-2 sequence.

Sentence 2 describes true simultaneity. She was in the act of saying "what the hell!" when, separately, she was surprised. This carries the meaning of her being surprised by something other than whatever caused her to exclaim in the first place.

Sentence 3 is similar to Sentence 1 but the causal relationship is even clearer and more explicit. She said "what the hell!" in direct response to the thing that surprised her.


To me the first and third suggest that something surprised Sue which led her to say "What the hell" immediately. Not quite simultaneous: the surprise came first and prompted the outburst.

The second suggests that Sue saying "What the hell" about something and while saying it something surprised her. That might be something completely different, or a surprising new feeling about what she was saying "What the hell" about.

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