Stunned and thunderstruck (Words for being surprised or shocked)

Listen to the author reading this blog post:

a man with his mouth open and eyebrows raised in a shocked expression, halfway through removing his glasses as he stares at something off-camera
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by Kate Woodford

This post is for anyone who feels they use the words ‘surprised’ and ‘shocked’ too much and is looking for more interesting alternatives. It will include both single words and phrases.

To describe the feeling of being extremely surprised or shocked, you can use the adjectives amazed, astonished, astounded, stunned or (UK) staggered:

We were both astonished to see her there.

I had no idea he was leaving – I was astounded.

She stood there for a few moments, completely stunned.

I was staggered at the cost.

The emphatic adjective thunderstruck has the same meaning and UK English also has the informal adjective gobsmacked. (In UK English, ‘gob’ is a very informal word meaning ‘mouth’.)

The news had left her thunderstruck.

I really wasn’t expecting her to say that – I was absolutely gobsmacked!

The adjectives speechless, dumbfounded and dumbstruck convey that someone is so surprised or shocked, they are unable to speak:

Sorry, I’m speechless – I don’t know what to say.

The announcement was greeted by a dumbfounded silence.

For a few seconds I couldn’t speak – I was completely dumbstruck.

The expressions lost for words and at a loss for words can be used with the same meaning:

I’d just heard the news and was lost for words.

For once in my life, I was at a loss for words.

Of course, there are other idioms in this area. If someone shows with their face that they are extremely surprised or shocked, you can say they are open-mouthed or that their jaw drops. To be even more emphatic, you might say someone’s jaw hit the ground:

They stared at her in open-mouthed amazement.

My jaw dropped when I heard his age.

I was in complete shock when she told us – my jaw hit the ground.

If you are surprised because something happens unexpectedly and you are not ready for it, you can say it takes you by surprise or catches you off guard:

He admitted to having been taken by surprise by the announcement.

The question had caught her off guard and she looked flustered.

There are a couple of useful verbs with this meaning too. If something unexpected, for example a piece of news or a question, throws you, it makes you very surprised and confused. Even stronger is the verb floor. If something unexpected floors you, it makes you so surprised and confused, you are unable to carry on:

I was a bit thrown by the comment and didn’t know how to deal with it.

She was completely floored by the news.

That concludes my round up of words and phrases on the theme of being surprised and shocked. I would love to know your favourite idiom in your language for ‘extremely surprised or shocked’. If you have a moment, perhaps you would like to post it below?

29 thoughts on “Stunned and thunderstruck (Words for being surprised or shocked)

  1. Samuel Coronado

    In Antioquia, a region in Colombia !Eh Ave María! is a common expresion to show surprise. It means something like: Oh, Saint Mary!

    1. TARCISO

      Thanks for sharing such a nice number of words to express surprise! In Brazil we usually say different things and it depends on the state you live in. In São Paulo there are people from everywhere and we commonly hear they say things like “Caramba!”, “Meu Deus!”, “Nossa!” and “Eita!”, but there are many many others.

      1. R.Lalnunkunga

        Very informative for learners! Simple and easy explantions. Looking forward to more lessons on this.

    2. Hello, Samuel can you expalin me, what do you have written there and your expression, because i don’t know about English and I want to learn it and show my English skills on my blank page to Colourful Nobel. 😊

  2. Frank Muscat

    In Maltese we have a word for shocked or surprised, which is imbellah. This word literally means to be rendered foolish as iblah means a fool, like being knocked out of your senses

  3. in Japanese ‘tamageru'(to be surprised or shocked) is formed ‘ tama'(soul) + ‘kieru'(disappear).
    it is a classical word but we use it today.

    1. helin

      In Turkish we say * ağzım açık kaldı * literally means my mouth stayed open to convey l couldn’t know what to say or do and am taken by suprise. Oh, one another is *şaşkınlıktan deliye döndüm* meaning going mad /crazy from being dumbfounded. But this is more about being in a extremely anxious state

      1. This wonderfuly expressed article is indeed estonished me, I’m dombfounded to see the list of various available alternatives of surprised or shocked, it led my jaw hit the ground, I’ll make sure to use all the stated terms to surpass my word memory, right away

    1. Awesome blog, love it’s writting style and high quality and trustworthyness .
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  4. *Mon Dieu* and *Crikey*!

    In Australian English – crikey is used a lot to express surprise.

    Also the idiom *stone the crows*.

    Even our godheads tend to become stunned or shocked – especially in Romance languages like French.

    So another “sacred” sort of expression – “Sacre bleu!”

    I would probably end up like a gargoyle. [thinking of the ones that drive you silent and stoned].

  5. Kapitánffy Orsolya

    In Hungarian we could say “teljesen lehidaltam”, meaning something like I (totally) did a backbend.

  6. Li, MaoWen

    Here is a list of Chinese phrases that denote surprise, approximately arranged from mild to strong:
    1. 感到意外 (gǎndào yìwài) – unexpected
    2. 为之一惊 (wèi zhī yī jīng) – a bit surprised [skipping a beat]
    3. ‘吓死了 (xià sǐ le) – literally meaning ‘scared to death,’ but it can be used more loosely to indicate being either slightly surprised or shocked.”
    4. 吃惊 (chījīng) – surprised
    5. 诧异 (chàyì) – surprised
    6. 惊讶 (jīngyà) – surprised
    7. 大吃一惊 (dàchīyījīng) – astonished
    8. 目瞪口呆 (mùdèngkǒudāi) – dumbfounded
    9. 惊呆了 (jīng dāi le) – stunned
    10. 吓呆了 (xià dāi le) – petrified
    11. 惊愕 (jīng’è) – astounded
    12. 震惊 (zhènjīng) – shocked
    13. 手足无措 (shǒu zú wú cuò) – feeling completely at a loss
    14. 惊心动魄 (jīngxīndòngpò) – heart-stopping, thrilling
    15. 魂飞魄散 (hún fēi pò sàn) – terrified (one’s soul breaks away from the body)

  7. Jelle

    Thanks for these words and expressions. I sometimes use the phrasal verb: I was bowled over. Or the idiom: this came like a bolt out of the blue.

  8. RaV

    Another one for polish: “Zamurowało mnie!” – “I got bricked (to the ground)!” The meaning is more or less you were so surprised, that you stood speechless and without a single move, much like a brick wall.

  9. J.F

    In spanish, we also tend to exclaim “¡Hostia!” (This is more common in Spain rather than latinamerican countries.) It basically translates to “communion wafer.” I’m not exactly sure when it adopted this.

    “¡Oiga!” is also pretty common, but it’s used sarcastically to convey disbelief. Also used to bring attention to something. (Literally translates to “hear/listen.”)

  10. Arisha

    If I may ask you to answer which of these convey positive connotation and which the other way round or may be used neutrally? Thank you so very much for the blog. It’s really helpful and your voice is beautiful.

  11. Fabricio Lisandro Appiani

    Many thanks for your blog, Mrs. Woodford! It is really useful. In Spanish, we usually use the expression “patitieso” in legal documents, in order to describe a feeling of extremly shock generally caused by an accident.

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