Enhancing the separation of rare-earth elements (REEs) from gangue materials in mined ores requires an understanding of the fundamental interactions driving the adsorption of collector ligands onto mineral interfaces. In this work, we examine five functionalized hydroxamic acid ligands as potential collectors for the REE-containing bastnäsite mineral in froth flotation using density functional theory calculations and a suite of surface-sensitive analytical spectroscopies. These include vibrational sum frequency generation, attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform infrared, Raman, and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopies. Differences in the chemical makeup of these ligands on well-defined bastnäsite and calcite surfaces allow for a systematic relationship connecting the structure to adsorption activity to be framed in the context of interfacial molecular recognition. We show how the intramolecular hydrogen bonding of adsorbed ligands requires the inclusion of explicit water solvent molecules to correctly map energetic and structural trends measured by experiments. We anticipate that the results and insights from this work will motivate and inform the design of improved flotation collectors for REE ores.