接 (jiē) and 接到 (jiēdào) in Chinese grammar: answering and receiving

The verbs 接 (jiē) and 接到 (jiēdào) make a nice way to look at verbal complements in Chinese grammar. They’re both used to talk about answering and receiving (e.g. with a telephone), but the way they work grammatically is different and they have different meanings.

The difference lies with 到 and the change it makes to the meaning of a verb. By comparing 接 and 接到, you’ll get a gentle introduction into how 到 works and Chinese verbal complements in general.

接 (jiē): to answer

On its own, 接 is a simple verb meaning ‘to answer’ or ‘to connect’. Originally 接 does mean ‘receive’, but its meaning is not as complete as ‘receive’ in English. The Chinese 接 is an action verb, and only describes the attempt. We don’t know from 接 alone the result of the action.

In the following examples, 接 is used in this way as a simple action verb:

我要接个电话。

Wǒ yào jiē gè diànhuà.

I'm going to take a phone call.

请接一下电话。

Qǐng jiē yīxià diànhuà.

Please answer the phone.

没人接。

Méi rén jiē.

No-one's answering.

As you can see, whilst the action of answering or receiving a phone call is described, the result of the action isn’t made totally clear.

接 can also mean ‘receive’ in the sense of meeting someone, especially at a particular time and place. Have a look at some examples:

你可以来机场接我吗?

Nǐ kěyǐ lái jīchǎng jiē wǒ ma?

Can you come to the airport and meet me?

不用接我。

Bùyòng jiē wǒ.

There's no need to come and meet me.

我没有去接他。

Wǒ méiyǒu qù jiē tā.

I didn't go to meet him.

Again, notice how the action itself is described, but the actual result of the action isn’t specified. The last sentence might seem like it does describe the result of 接, but look closer. It actually says that no attempt to 接 anyone was made, so there’s no result.

To specify the result of what happens when you try to 接 something or someone, you need 到. Let’s take a look.

接到 (jiēdào): to receive

When you add 到 after 接, you make it clear that the action was achieved or completed. 到 is the result of trying to 接 something. You may know that 到 means ‘arrive’, and this sort of makes sense here: our action of trying to 接 “arrived” at its target destination.

Many verbs in Chinese work in this way; on their own they don’t specify the result, but adding 到 (or one of a range of other result complements) makes the action complete.

Have a look at some examples with 接到:

我们还能接到他们吗?

Wǒmen hái néng jiē dào tāmen ma?

We will still be able to meet them?

你接到电话了吗?

Nǐ jiē dào diànhuàle ma?

Did you manage to answer the phone?

我没有接到电话。

Wǒ méiyǒu jiē dào diànhuà.

I didn't manage to answer the phone.

我在机场没有接到他。

Wǒ zài jīchǎng méiyǒu jiē dào tā.

I didn't manage to meet him at the airport.

我在火车站接到他了。

Wǒ zài huǒchē zhàn jiē dào tāle.

I managed to meet him at the train station.

The examples have been translated into English with ‘manage to’. This is a little unwieldy, but makes the meaning of 接到 clearer

Now some examples directly comparing 接 with 接到:

我没有接到电话。

Wǒ méiyǒu jiē dào diànhuà.

I didn't answer the phone [because I was unable to].

我没有接电话。

Wǒ méiyǒu jiē diànhuà.

I didn't answer the phone [because I didn't try to].

This has been a short taster of result complements in Chinese grammar. Hopefully it’s made 接 and 接到 a little clearer for you, and given you an idea of how result complements work. If you have any questions, fire away in the comments.

See also

More B1 articles

  1. Understanding 把 (bǎ) in ten minutes B1
  2. How to use 碰 (pèng), 碰见 (pèngjiàn) and 碰上 (pèngshàng) in Chinese grammar B1
  3. 接 (jiē) and 接到 (jiēdào) in Chinese grammar: answering and receiving B1

See all B1 articles

Other articles for

  1. 接 (jiē) and 接到 (jiēdào) in Chinese grammar: answering and receiving B1
  2. Chinese direction complements: Basic verbal directions with 来 (lái) and 去 (qù) B2