Do they all mean to receive or to obtain? What are the differences in the use of these words?

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    "besorgen" does not mean the same thing as the others. It means you are going to get something (for example groceries), but the others mean that you are receiving something from someone(more passive). Commented Mar 15, 2013 at 23:39
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    Aus 6 Begriffen kann man 21 Paare bilden - sollen wir die alle gegenüberstellen? Welche Unklarheiten hinterlässt die Konsultation eines Wörterbuchs? Commented Mar 16, 2013 at 6:42
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    Dictionaries may list all of them as synonyms, or worse offer these as a list of possible translations. Without context we may not give you a good answer though.
    – Takkat
    Commented Mar 18, 2013 at 8:48
  • meta.german.stackexchange.com/questions/503/…
    – Takkat
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 9:55
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    I don't understand why this question is closed. It is a reasonable question, there is nothing ambiguous about it. Somebody is being too anal about the rules IMHO.
    – gotofritz
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 8:04

1 Answer 1

  • bekommen: means to get something. this is the most generic term in the group since it has the least implications of how and what. It implies only that the process is finished as opposed to "empfangen". Can be used for people "ich.. " and entities "Die Firma... ".
  • erhalten: means to receive something that you have expected, waited for, mostly for objects. It could be a letter and the term "halten" (="hold") indicates that it usually is something that is small enough to hold in your hands. Therefore it does not work for something continuous such as a disease, a phone connection or like a radio signal. There must be a point when you have what is being transferred. Works for people and entities.
  • entgegennehmen: means to take something that someone hands over to you in a more official manner, like for a registered letter. It implies that the object becomes your possession. The term "nehmen" (="take") indicates that you participate in the act of receiving something. Like erhalten, it does not work for something continuous. Works only for people.
  • empfangen: means to receive something or someone that comes to you. It does not indicate how you got it (in your hands or not) or if you initiated the transfer, so it is used for emails, and can be used for something continuous like a Radio signal. The term "fangen" (="catch") indicates an action of placing/enabling yourself in order to receive it, like tuning a radio or going to the door for your guests. It does not work for something you passively receive like a disease or a snowball in your face.
  • besorgen: means to go somewhere and get something, like shopping or if you went to get it from a friend. You initiate the transfer. It indicates that you fill a need and you can do that for someone else: "Ich habe meiner Mutter einen neuen Ofen besorgt".
  • kriegen: means a passive receiving of something. It can indicate that you had little or no control in getting it, used for an injury for example. It could be taken as almost 100% equivalent to "bekommen" in a colloquial form.

Please note that bekommen and kriegen can both change the meaning with the appropriate preposition: Herausbekommen, hinkriegen, rauskriegen.

Another thing to consider is that a lot of idioms where a physical action is described have a combined meaning that is in the end not a physical action. Therefore, "Wie kriegen wir die Kuh vom Eis?" means literally "how to we get (=receive) the cow off the ice", as in physically get it off from somewhere, but figuratively means how to solve a problem.

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    Wie kriegen wir die Kuh vom Eis? In this case "kriegen" has the meaning of how to do something.
    – Alina B.
    Commented Mar 16, 2013 at 10:17
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    „bekommen“ and „kriegen“ generically do mean exactly the same (meaning can change due to context). „erhalten“ is not exclusively used for objects: „eine Auszeichnung erhalten“. It just indicates, that someone else is responsible for/doing that action. The subject is just the recipient, nothing more. „entgegennehmen“ has nothing official on it and can also be used for abstract things: „Kritik entgegennehmen“. It implies the conciousness of reception possibly expressed by an answer/signature/reaction.
    – Toscho
    Commented Mar 16, 2013 at 19:26
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    Man kann auch Kinder kriegen und bekommen. Man kann die Natur erhalten. Die Fluglinie kann ein neues Flugzeug erhalten ohne dass sie überhaupt Hände hätte. Man kann es einem anderen so richtig besorgen. Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 6:47
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    @AlinaB. Rather how to achieve something, i.e to get a result.
    – uncovery
    Commented Jul 6, 2020 at 1:22
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    @AlinaB. In "Wie kriegen wir die Kuh vom Eis?" , "etwas von etwas kriegen" does not mean "how to do something", but rather "to get something off something". "how" is expressed by the word "wie". IMHO more concrete examples such as "kriegen die Schaufel vom Boden" (get the shovel off the floor) or "kriegen den Fleck vom Hemd" (get the stain off the shirt) would make your point clearer. Commented Dec 5, 2020 at 16:18

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