Phagocytosis requires receptor-mediated recognition of particles, usually in the guise of infectious agents and apoptotic cells. Phagosomes fuse with lysosomes to generate phagolysosomes, which play a key role in enzymatic digestion of the internalized contents into component parts. Recent findings indicate that a simple paradigm of a single cognate receptor interaction that guides the phagosome to phagolysosome formation belies the complexity of combinatorial receptor recognition and diversity of phagosome function. In fact, phagosomes are comprised of hundreds of proteins that play a key role in deciphering the contents of the phagosome and in defining host response. In this review we discuss how the challenge of recognizing diverse molecular patterns is met by combinatorial interactions between phagocytic receptors. Furthermore, these combinations are dynamic and both sculpt the balance between a proinflammatory or anti-inflammatory response and direct phagosome diversity. We also indicate an important role for genetically tractable model organisms in defining key components of this evolutionarily conserved process.