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If there is a more general principle at work here, I'd love to know, so I can find more resources. For many verbs, if there's an object, you use 给 beforehand.

给他打电话

For some, you can do it before or after

给他送

送给她

The other day in class, I tried to say

给我证明

and was told I should have said

证明给我看

I'm not doubting my teacher, I'm just trying to find a bit more rhyme and reason to how objects works.

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    what is the English phrase supposed to be? 给我证明 can be followed by the fact that is to be proved e.g. 地球是圆的,证明给我看 is a complete sentence (prove it to me) and it also is a pivotal sentence (兼语句) 我 being simultaneously the object of the first predicate 证明给 and subject of the second predicate 看, (more examples of pivotal sentences: 老师叫我们念课文,他请我去)(putting 给 in front would give * 给我看证明 or *给我看证明看 which violate the structure of pivotal sentences) – user6065 May 3 '17 at 21:38
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In general:

When is placed before a verb, it means 'for'. And it has a 'demanding or asserted tone' to it.

我打!= Beat (him) for me!

他送 = give/ send (it) for him

我证明 = prove (it) for me

When is placed after a verb, it means 'to'

她 = give/send (it) to her

证明我看 = prove (it) to me

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给X is the Chinese version of accusative or dative case. 给X indicates X is passive, not active. Before or after a verb, it just shifts the action away from X. Otherwise, X would somehow also seem active and you may end up with a nonsense sentence.

What happens if you don't use it?

给他打电话 give him a call
打给他电话 give him a call
他打电话 he calls

给他送 send him/give him
他送 he sends/gives

她试图给他剪指甲,他不让。 She tried to cut his fingernails but he didn't let her.

(In German that would be: Sie wollte ihm die Fingernägel schneiden, doch er ließ sie nicht. 'ihm' is the dative case of German 'er' = 'he', corresponding to Old English 'him' and Modern English 'him')

她试图他剪指甲,他不让。 *She tried he/him cut his fingernails, ....

证明给我看 We could translate: Prove it to me. German: Beweis es mir. 'mir' is the dative case of 'me' in German.

But I think this really says: 证明给我看 Proof let me see. / Give me proof to see. / Let me see (some) proof.

As Modern English has lost most of the case system that Old English had, it bypasses that using a prepositional phrase sometimes. I wouldn't just generalize and say 给X is 'to X' or 'for X'. That won't work in many cases.

  • Doesn't seem to answer the question. The person wants to know when the 给X comes before the verb and when it comes after. – Stumpy Joe Pete May 3 '17 at 23:07
  • You are right, but I don't think there is an answer. You can write: 给他打电话 or 打给他电话 Since both have the same meaning, what rule will you propose to explain such expressions? The point is '给他‘ is passively being done to, whereas '他’ is active. – Pedroski May 5 '17 at 21:28
  • There are some circumstances when either is permitted. There are some circumstances where 给XV is required or V给X is required. I think the question is about determining which circumstances are which. – Stumpy Joe Pete May 5 '17 at 23:32
  • Then there is: 给他电话 give him the phone. Chinese syntax is not simple! – Pedroski May 6 '17 at 22:51

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