Sometimes, I was watching TV or studying when my daughter suddenly called me or suddenly tap me on my back from behind. That action made me jerk a bit or give me a little shock.

Is it correct to say "You startled the hell out of me"?

What is the common verb (or everyday words) used to say you jerk a little bit because someone suddenly calls you while you are focusing on something?

  • If you had jumped out of your seat when startled, or threw your coffee cup into the air, you could say "...startled the hell out of me" but not if you "jerked a bit". Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 15:39
  • 1
    I don't think the two words share a common origin, but a start can be a sudden movement of surprise or alarm (perhaps as a result of being startled). Less commonly, the verb form He started can be used to mean He made a sudden movement of surprise or alarm. So He started when I startled him (meaning He jerked / jolted / moved suddenly when I surprised him) is syntactically and semantically fine - it's just a bit of an "awkward assonance". Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 15:49

3 Answers 3


The common word for a small, unexpected scare in British English is 'jump', rather than 'jerk'

You made me jump!

I think the US English equivalent is to call it 'a start':

You gave me a start!

"Startled the hell out of me" sounds much more severe!

  • I don't consider start to be particularly American, but "You made me jump" is certainly what I would say. Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 15:52

Any expression with "hell" in it will be quite extreme, and quite rude (it is the sort of thing that parents would tell their children not to say) and certainly not something to say to a young child!

"You startled me" is fine and avoids any swearing. Or "You made me jump"


An active voice verb for that is:
M-W "start"
"1b: to react with a sudden brief involuntary movement
started when a shot rang out "

AHD "start"
"v. intr. 3. To move one's body or a part of it suddenly or involuntarily"
"started at the loud noise."

Collins "start"
"If you start, your body suddenly moves slightly as a result of surprise or fear."
"He started at the sound."

  • What would you say to someone: "You started me", "You gave me a start”, or "You made me start”?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 17:05
  • It's active voice, but intransitve. I added two more examples from dictionaries available at onelook.com. There are more. You can say "You gave me a start.", but then that's a noun with a like sense. Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 20:28

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