When somebody says "I am surprised that...", does it mean to express not only surprise but also some level of disappointment or disapproval?

If somebody uses that expression when speaking with me, I feel somewhat annoyed and guilty. It feels like there is some subtle expression of disapproval and even annoyance on the part of the speaker that they can't openly express.

Would a native speaker of English interpret this expression the way I do? Or would it depend not only on the expression but also on the manner of expressing it?

| improve this question | | | | |
  • Not rarely, it is used as a euphemism for sth. like 'You are not supposed do that!' – Kris Dec 27 '11 at 6:14
  • I think it's worth pointing out that I'm surprised at you", for example, almost always expresses disapproval. – FumbleFingers Dec 28 '11 at 2:14
  • You need context. These utterances do not float around in the aetherspere. Only actually hearing a person say them or instructing a person to say them a particular way (actors) will reveal whether it's negative or positive. Period. Nothing about this expression is inherently given, semantically. – Lambie Mar 12 at 20:31

In principle it might be expressing either approval or disapproval, depending on context; but contra Jasper Loy I think it is more likely to express disapproval, because if it expresses approval I think it would be likely to be accompanied by words making that approval clearer.


"Wow! I'm surprised you said that"

is probably impressed, but

"I'm surprised you said that."

is probably disapproving, though either of these inferences may be changed by a suitable tone of voice.

| improve this answer | | | | |
  • I agree. In fact, I am surprised you did not notice that it is mostly used euphemistically to avoid an unpleasant expression. So, rather than probably, it is typically though not necessarily, I suppose. – Kris Dec 27 '11 at 6:12
  • 2
    "I think it is more likely to express disapproval, because if it expresses approval I think it would be likely to be accompanied by words making that approval clearer." That makes no sense. I don't see how your conclusion follows from the evidence claimed to support it, even assuming that evidence is correct. When it's used to express approval, it is usually accompanied by words to make that clearer too. By itself, it just indicates surprise. – David Schwartz Dec 27 '11 at 7:28
  • @DavidSchwartz: I am not that sure, tho. Pl also see my comment under OP. – Kris Dec 27 '11 at 8:02
  • @David, "When it's used to express approval, ..." I think you meant "When it's used to express disapproval, ..." – Kavka Dec 27 '11 at 15:10
  • @Kavka If I meant that, I wouldn't have put "too" on the end. – David Schwartz Dec 27 '11 at 18:40

I am surprised that XXX simply means XXX evokes surprise. This surprise can be a good or bad one. The expression itself does not tell you which it is, and you can choose to infer from the context.

For example, suppose there is a girl you like and you somehow managed to find out her email without asking her for it. She could be pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised to receive your email. In either case she could still say

I am surprised that you found out my email.

| improve this answer | | | | |
  • 1
    +1 because the words used in this sentence mean exactly what they say, i.e. surprise. Especially in spoken English, the tone of voice can indicate other sentiments involved. – Irene Dec 27 '11 at 11:39
  • Not enough for a separate answer, so I’ll add a comment: It’s quite possible to say something like “I am surprised that John managed to finish his assignment on time.”, when John is known for tardiness. In such a case, (obviously?) it means that the speaker is pleasantly surprised. – Scott Oct 21 '18 at 4:18
  • No written context can take the place of intonation, etc. as a conveyor of meaning here. – Lambie Mar 12 at 20:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.