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I'm confused over when to use which particle for the word, がっかりする, as well as other verbs that may use a range of different particles in different contexts. Is there a specific rule to knowing when to use which particle?

I've found several sentences using がっかりする on jisho.com. Here are the examples:

息子にがっかりした。 I was disappointed in my son.

評判の小説だったので期待して読んだが、薄っぺらい内容でがっかりした。 I had high expectations of the novel because of its reputation, but I was disappointed by its frivolous content.

Why were different particles used in these sentences?

(Also shoutout to @naruto and others for always helping out with confusions over grammar! いつもありがとうございます。)

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    In English we can say, in your own words, "disappointed in", "disappointed by", "disappointed with". Perhaps in the Japanese there are differences with the use of different particles, but I would be hard pressed to explain the differences with the different prepositions in English.
    – A.Ellett
    Commented May 22 at 16:56
  • @A.Ellett Actually, that sounds like an excellent question for english.SE and/or ell.SE (depending on how it's posed), if it doesn't exist already. Commented May 22 at 20:17

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~でがっかりする and ~にがっかりする are both correct.

  • 薄っぺらい内容がっかりした。
    I was disappointed by the frivolous content.
  • 薄っぺらい内容がっかりした。
    (it had) frivolous content, and (so) I was disappointed.

In this case, there isn't much difference between the two. Grammatically, に is this particle に to mark the cause of a psychological reaction. This で is not a particle but the te-form of だ to connect two independent clauses, implying a cause-effect relationship (essentially the same as 薄っぺらい内容だったのでがっかりした).

However, the difference between に and で would be huge in your first example:

  • 息子がっかりした。
    (My son did something nasty and) I was disappointed by my son.
  • 息子がっかりした。
    (I was expecting a baby girl, but) It was a son, so I was disappointed.
    (I was expecting someone else to come, but) It was my son, so I was disappointed.

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