I have written four similar sentences using surprised:

  1. I was deeply surprised at the news.
  2. I was deeply surprised at learning the news.
  3. I was deeply surprised at being told the news.
  4. I was deeply surprised to learn the news.

It seems certain that 1 and 4 are grammatically right and smooth. What I'd like to know is whether 2 and 3 are commonly used in daily life.

If there is a difference between 1 and 2, what is it? Or are they just the same?

  • I think, but I'm not sure, the preposition should be changed: I was deeply surprised upon hearing/learning the news. – Mari-Lou A Dec 12 '13 at 8:34

'Surprised at' (like 'surprised by') requires a noun group indicating the actual situation / event, so sentence (1) is fine. (3) means that you are surprised that you were told the news! (2) means that the fact that you learnt the news surprised you, which is very probably not what is intended. (2') I was deeply surprised on learning the news. means that the news itself was the cause of the surprise.

I'd say that 'surprised to' (and notice that to here is not the preposition) needs careful handling:

I was surprised to learn the news that . . .: the news surprised you


I was surprised to be told that . . .: this can mean either the news or the fact you were told it was surprising.

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