When you pass the exam for certification in ABC, which if any of these work, and which if any do not work?

  1. You get a certification in ABC.

  2. You earn a certification in ABC.

  3. You obtain a certification in ABC.

  • 1
    Does anyone say "gotten" anymore except in "ill-gotten"?
    – GEdgar
    Feb 14, 2013 at 14:14
  • @GEdgar: I haven't gotten any complaints about using it lately. (I've heard that Americans tend to use 'gotten' more than Brits.)
    – Mitch
    Feb 14, 2013 at 15:23
  • 1
    @GEdgar No, nobody ever uses gotten outside of ill-gotten — apart from 300,000,000 or so native speakers, plus or minus a few turncoats. :)
    – tchrist
    Feb 14, 2013 at 16:23
  • I wonder if these lines will cross one day... books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – GEdgar
    Feb 14, 2013 at 16:31
  • Consider: “Once you pass the XYZZY exam, you will be certified in XYZZY.”
    – tchrist
    Feb 14, 2013 at 16:53

3 Answers 3


All of those, and also receive, "are given" and "are awarded". Without knowing anything else about the context, I'd lean towards "are awarded", as being more specific because it wouldn't apply to many other things you can receive/get/obtain/be given.


There's no difference in meaning. In spoken AmE, get seems to be common. Obtain seems to be a better fit in formal settings. And earn doesn't seem to be that common at all. Earn implies that you deserve the certificate because you have worked very hard to get it.


According to the COED, certification means

an official document attesting a fact, in particular:
• a document recording a person’s birth, marriage, or death: a birth certificate
• a document confirming that someone has reached a certain level of achievement in a course of study or training: a university-accredited certificate
• a document attesting ownership of an item or the fulfilment of legal requirements: a share certificate

The critical aspect of a certification (or a certificate) is to attest to a fact. That fact may be something that is ascribed or acquired, and if acquired, may be through the certification holders diligent efforts, or not.

You can certify that someone

  • is female
  • is 30 years old
  • can read an eyechart while wearing glasses
  • has attended class
  • is disease free
  • has the highest grade point average

There is obviously a wide range of affirmative efforts or accomplishments (or none) that may be the basis of receiving a certification. Consequently, while some certifications may have been earned, many are not. They are received, obtained, gotten, issued or any other term that means convey without indicating an accomlishment on the part of the holder.

  • Assuming the exam mentioned is one that one would work for, rather than something like a medical exam, earned would be appropriate in this case.
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 14, 2013 at 14:09
  • @JonHanna No disagreement, but you need to know the context to determine whether earned is appropriate.
    – bib
    Feb 14, 2013 at 14:16