the difference between words: surprised and shocked

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The entry for today is about two words that many of my students get confused about: “surprised” and “shocked”. We use “surprised” when we want to talk about a situation that we find unexpected. It is generally a positive or neutral situation. On the other hand, we use “shocked” when we want to talk about a situation that we find extremely unexpected. These situations are usually negative but sometimes they can be neutral. The important thing to remember is that “shocked” is much stronger than “surprised”. For example:

I thought Jenny was about 30, but she’s really 41. I was quite surprised.

I thought Jenny was about 30, but she’s really 56! I was shocked!

I was surprised when I found out that Bill got a promotion after working at the company for only two years.

I was shocked when I found out that Bill got a promotion after working at the company for only five months!

These are examples of neutral situations. We use “surprised” in the first sentence because we feel it was a little unexpected, but we use “shocked” in the second sentence because it was very unexpected. Here are some more example sentences:

I was really surprised when my husband remembered my birthday. He usually forgets it.

I was pleasantly surprised when Gerry came to my party. He is usually too busy to come to my parties.

I was totally shocked when I found out that my boss died from a heart attack! He was only 52 years old!

Yesterday, my company announced that at least 100 employees would have to be laid off. Everyone was so shocked because we thought the company was doing well.

Here, the first two sentences use “surprised” in positive ways, and the last two examples use “shocked” because the situations are very serious and negative.

Please remember that we use the -ed forms, “surprised” and “shocked” when we are talking about people’s feelings about a situation. We use the -ing forms, “surprising” and “shocking” when we want to talk about a situation itself. For example:

It was so surprising when Bill got a promotion after only working at the company for two years.

There was a huge tsunami in Japan recently. It was shocking to see the terrible destruction it caused!

Please note that in these cases, we use the word “it” with the -ing forms.

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1 Comment »

  1. Samya Said:

    Thanks very much. Very informative.


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