One of the things I find a bit frustrating about learning Chinese is that there are a lot of words that seem to have very similar meanings. If you look up 收到, 受到, and 得到 in the dictionary they all apparently mean “get, receive, obtain”, which is not very helpful. Also 收到 and 受到 sound very similar which is extra confusing. Actually there are some subtle differences so I thought I’d share my researches here.


This one means to receive something concrete or a physical object. E.g. 收到一个礼物 “receive a present”, 收到一封信 “get a letter”. One person I asked also said there’s some sense that the thing being received either originally belonged to you or should rightfully belong to you. By itself 收 also has the simple meaning of “to get a thing”.


This means to receive something more abstract or emotional like love or concern or punishment. It also has some sense of being “passively” received. E.g. 受到指责 “receive criticism”, 受到关心 “receive the concern of others”. I try to remember this by thinking the character 受 looks a lot like 爱 “love” and so should have something to do with emotions (probably not etymologically accurate). By itself 受 also means to passively receive something, e.g. in 受欢迎 “be well-received or popular”.


This one is also more abstract than 收到. It means to receive something that was deserved or earned in some way. E.g. 因为他赢了,他得到了金牌 “because he won, he received the gold medal”, 因为他工作得很努力,他得到了表彰 “because he worked hard he received a commendation”. It can also be used a negative sense, like receiving punishment or criticism that was deserved.