Definition of surprise in English:

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Pronunciation: /sə(r)ˈprīz/


1An unexpected or astonishing event, fact, or thing: the announcement was a complete surprise
More example sentences
  • The trip here was full of surprises, like the fact that Jon got incredibly seasick almost the minute we left.
  • Surprise in war is achieved by doing the unexpected and the avoidance of unpleasant surprises is what military intelligence is all about.
  • The political environment in Louisiana is always full of surprises but is seldom surprising.
shock, bolt from the blue, bombshell, revelation, rude awakening, eye-opener, wake-up call
informal shocker
1.1A feeling of mild astonishment or shock caused by something unexpected: much to her surprise, she’d missed him
More example sentences
  • Grant had an interesting expression, something of mild surprise, anger, and annoyance.
  • She looked down in mild surprise and disdain before breaking off the shaft and holding it up to inspect it more closely.
  • One detaches himself from the herd, I note with mild surprise, and heads outside with me.
astonishment, amazement, wonder, incredulity, bewilderment, stupefaction, disbelief
1.2 [as modifier] Denoting something made, done, or happening unexpectedly: a surprise attack
More example sentences
  • For his part, Eisenhower feared a surprise attack and war by miscalculation.
  • Others are engineers who manned machine guns to defend comrades from surprise attacks.
  • Initially, the air security service was tasked with preventing surprise attack by enemy aviation.
2 [as modifier] Bell-ringing Denoting a class of complex methods of change-ringing: surprise major


[with object]
1(Of something unexpected) cause (someone) to feel mild astonishment or shock: I was surprised at his statement [with object and infinitive]: Joe was surprised that he enjoyed the journey [with infinitive]: she was surprised to learn that he was forty
More example sentences
  • On the train I ask the chatty parent whether he was surprised at the appointment of a woman.
  • He was surprised at the feelings Kate had provoked in him since he'd met her the previous day.
  • The researchers were pleasantly surprised to find 56 more gorillas.
astonish, amaze, startle, astound, stun, stagger, shock;
leave open-mouthed, take someone's breath away, dumbfound, stupefy, daze, take aback, shake up
informal bowl over, floor, flabbergast
astonished, amazed, astounded, startled, stunned, staggered, nonplussed, shocked, taken aback, stupefied, dumbfounded, dumbstruck, speechless, thunderstruck, confounded, shaken up
informal bowled over, flabbergasted, floored, flummoxed
unexpected, unforeseen, unpredictable;
astonishing, amazing, startling, astounding, staggering, incredible, extraordinary, breathtaking, remarkable
informal mind-blowing
1.1Capture, attack, or discover suddenly and unexpectedly; catch unawares: he surprised a gang stealing scrap metal
More example sentences
  • When they got in they could then surprise the occupants, catching them off guard easily.
  • Information that is not tracked could later surprise the Army on the battlefield.
  • To be able to surprise the U.S. military, they will try to learn more about it than the military knows about itself.
take by surprise, catch unawares, catch off guard, catch red-handed, catch in the act



surprise, surprise

informal Said when giving someone a surprise.
1.1Said ironically when one believes that something was entirely predictable: we entrust you with Jason’s care and, surprise surprise, you make a mess of it
More example sentences
  • All the beautiful old stone work was taken away and, surprise, surprise, when it was rebuilt was replaced by ugly aluminium fencing which is an insult to the locality and a veritable eyesore.
  • It also found - surprise, surprise - that women prefer tall dark strangers, but do not like men with long hair, beards or stubble, who like football and smoke.
  • Hurricane Fabian is expected to graze the west of Bermuda on Friday night, bringing - surprise, surprise - strong winds and thunderstorms.

take someone/something by surprise

Attack or capture someone or something unexpectedly.
Example sentences
  • The security officials were taken by surprise by the attack.
  • The attack took the troops by surprise, but was no more successful than any of the previous offensives.
  • Some have accused Franklin D. Roosevelt of deliberately permitting the attack to take his forces by surprise so as to bring the United States into the war.
(take someone by surprise)2.1 Happen when someone is not prepared or is expecting something different: the question took David by surprise
More example sentences
  • My five-year-old son's question took me by surprise.
  • The question took Rebecca by surprise, and she was ashamed to admit the truth.
  • The question took Scott by surprise and he hesitated a moment before answering.


Late Middle English (in the sense 'unexpected seizure of a place, or attack on troops'): from Old French, feminine past participle of surprendre, from medieval Latin superprehendere 'seize'.

  • From the 15th century a surprise was a sudden unexpected attack or seizure of a place. You could also use the word to talk about simply taking a place by force, whether unexpected or not, as in ‘the surprise of Troy’, even after a siege of ten years. Over time the suggestion of force faded away and the sense of something being unexpected came to the fore. The source was medieval Latin superprehendere ‘to seize’, from prehendere source of words listed at prison.

Words that rhyme with surprise

advise, apprise, apprize, arise, assize, capsize, chastise, comprise, demise, despise, devise, downsize, excise, flies, guise, incise, low-rise, misprize, outsize, previse, prise, prize, remise, revise, rise, size, surmise, uprise, wise

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: sur·prise

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