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I get that all 3 kind of express the same idea of "being taken aback" or taking someone aback, being shocked, bewildered, surprized.

I am wondering what are their subtle differences in nuance (if any) and if all can be used in similar scenarios or have to abide by certain restrictions. For example I've seen はっと being used only in causative form when we want to say "I was shocked" -> "はっとさせられた"

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当惑する (noun + verb)
common word

Originally 当惑 is a noun which means "bewilderment", it can be used as a verb when connecting する or just as a noun (its main function).


戸惑う (verb)
common word

It is a verb in itself for "to be confused", "to be bewildered".


はっとする (adverb + する)
common, narrative

はっと is onomatopoeic. You can use it as part of a speech but you will likely see it in storytelling as it supports monologues of actions.
it expresses the swiftness of a surprise and can be used before different verbs. For instance :

その光景にはっと息をのんだ。
I [with a surprise] lost my breath at the sight.


度肝を抜く (noun + verb, expression)
not common, narrative

"to be stunned"
More of an expression, its use is more likely to be seen in literature.

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  • Thanks for the input! The "narrative" nuance puts things into a better perspective. Have you noticed any particular difference between 戸惑う and 当惑する in everyday speech? Maybe 当惑, being a suru-verb, is a bit more formal and 戸惑う a bit more casual?
    – 悪戯猫
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 15:45
  • I am not sure about that, but I'd say 当惑する is more common (because you can also use the noun form) over 戸惑う which is a verb by nature. But those are not words I have often encountered to be honest. To me they still look pretty formal. Maybe you want to use 困る?
    – vdegenne
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 18:55
  • 「当惑する・戸惑う・困惑する」vs「はっとする」vs「度肝を抜く」って、そもそも意味や用法がかなり違いますよね。ところで、「その光景にはっと息をのんだ。」って例文ですけどこれに関してもよそのページから例文を引用される際は出典を明記してください。
    – chocolate
    Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 1:12
  • @Chocolate I can't cite source because it's a sentence I memorized long time ago, I don't even know where I read it anymore..
    – vdegenne
    Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 12:53

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