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[ser-prahyz, suh-] /sərˈpraɪz, sə-/
verb (used with object), surprised, surprising.
to strike or occur to with a sudden feeling of wonder or astonishment, as through unexpectedness:
Her beauty surprised me.
to come upon or discover suddenly and unexpectedly:
We surprised the children raiding the cookie jar.
to make an unexpected assault on (an unprepared army, fort, person, etc.).
to elicit or bring out suddenly and without warning:
to surprise the facts from the witness.
to lead or bring unawares, as into doing something not intended:
to surprise a witness into telling the truth.
an act or instance of surprising or being surprised.
something that surprises someone; a completely unexpected occurrence, appearance, or statement:
His announcement was a surprise to all.
an assault, as on an army or a fort, made without warning.
a coming upon unexpectedly; detecting in the act; taking unawares.
take by surprise,
  1. to come upon unawares.
  2. to astonish; amaze:
    The amount of the donation took us completely by surprise.
Origin of surprise
late Middle English
1425-75; (noun) late Middle English < Anglo-French surpris(e), Middle French, past participle of surprendre, equivalent to sur- sur-1 + pris (masculine), prise (feminine) < Latin prēnsus, -sa, equivalent to prēnd(ere), contracted variant of prehendere to take (see prehension) + -tus, -ta past participle suffix; (v.) late Middle English surprisen < Anglo-French surpris(e) (past participle), Middle French, as above
Related forms
[ser-prahy-zid-lee, -prahyzd-, suh-] /sərˈpraɪ zɪd li, -ˈpraɪzd-, sə-/ (Show IPA),
surpriser, noun
supersurprise, noun
unsurprised, adjective
1. Surprise, astonish, amaze, astound mean to strike with wonder because of unexpectedness, strangeness, unusualness, etc. To surprise is to take unawares or to affect with wonder: surprised at receiving a telegram. To astonish is to strike with wonder by something unlooked for, startling, or seemingly inexplicable: astonished at someone's behavior. To amaze is to astonish so greatly as to disconcert or bewilder: amazed at such an evidence of stupidity. To astound is to so overwhelm with surprise that one is unable to think or act: astounded by the news. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for surprise
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Halbert's first emotion was surprise, his second was gratification.

    Brave and Bold Horatio Alger
  • "Certainly, Robert," was the reply, but the lawyer's manner showed some surprise.

    Brave and Bold Horatio Alger
  • My reason for concealment was, that I might surprise you at the end of this voyage.

    Brave and Bold Horatio Alger
  • The lawyer listened with surprise to the story Robert had to tell.

    Brave and Bold Horatio Alger
  • But to his surprise he found that Mrs. Rushton was inclined to regard it favorably.

    Brave and Bold Horatio Alger
British Dictionary definitions for surprise


verb (transitive)
to cause to feel amazement or wonder
to encounter or discover unexpectedly or suddenly
to capture or assault suddenly and without warning
to present with something unexpected, such as a gift
(foll by into) to provoke (someone) to unintended action by a trick, etc: to surprise a person into an indiscretion
(often foll by from) to elicit by unexpected behaviour or by a trick: to surprise information from a prisoner
the act or an instance of surprising; the act of taking unawares
a sudden or unexpected event, gift, etc
the feeling or condition of being surprised; astonishment
(modifier) causing, characterized by, or relying upon surprise: a surprise move
take by surprise
  1. to come upon suddenly and without warning
  2. to capture unexpectedly or catch unprepared
  3. to astonish; amaze
Derived Forms
surprisal, noun
surprised, adjective
surprisedly (səˈpraɪzɪdlɪ) adverb
surpriser, noun
Word Origin
C15: from Old French, from surprendre to overtake, from sur-1 + prendre from Latin prehendere to grasp; see prehensile
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for surprise

late 14c., "unexpected attack or capture," from Middle French surprise "a taking unawares," from noun use of past participle of Old French surprendre "to overtake," from sur- "over" (see sur-) + prendre "to take," from Latin prendere, contracted from prehendere "to grasp, seize" (see prehensile). Meaning "something unexpected" first recorded 1590s, that of "feeling caused by something unexpected" is c.1600. Meaning "fancy dish" is attested from 1708.

A Surprize is ... a dish ... which promising little from its first appearance, when open abounds with all sorts of variety. [W. King, "Cookery," 1708]
Surprise party originally was a military detachment (1841); festive sense is attested from 1858.


late 14c., from Anglo-French surprise, fem. past participle of surprendre (see surprise (n.)). Related: Surprised; surprising.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for surprise



An exclamation of feigned astonishment over something perfectly obvious or predictable: A study conducted by university researchers a year ago found that the Family Support Act was failing to change the welfare culture. Surprise/ There were two favorite spots for tots. Surprise surprise. The boys loved the little bosom rose (1953+)

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with surprise


The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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