Chinese Preposition 给 gěi – "to/for" in Chinese

Chinese Preposition 给
How to Say "Give" in Chinese 给 gěi

How do people, places, things, events, etc., relate to each other? Is someone doing something “for” someone else? How about “to” them? What’s the origin “from” one thing to another, or distance “from” two places? We’ll discuss all of these in upcoming posts but for now, let’s discuss the Chinese Preposition 给 gěi.

When I was a kid, the word “preposition” made my brain shut off. There was (and still is) something about linguistic jargon that aggravated me because it always felt so pointless. 

When I started learning about Chinese grammar, I came across the word 介词 jiècí – ‘preposition,’ but instead of my brain shutting off, I suddenly realized that prepositions are “relators.”

介 is the main character in the word “介绍 jièshào – to introduce.” Another way to conceptualize “introducing” is “to create a new relationship.” Now, the idea of a ‘preposition’ wasn’t so scary. They’re mere ‘relators’!

That’s why, in The Mandarin Blueprint Method, we refer to prepositions as “relators.”

Chinese Character 给 gěi

给 gěi is a high-frequency character that has a few essential functions:

1. A verb meaning “to give.”

2. A ‘relator’ (preposition) meaning “for,” (e.g., ‘All my hard work I do *for* my family’).

3. An emphasizer in spoken language (combined with 把 bǎ, will discuss in a future article).

4. A passive voice indicator (will talk about in a future article about 被 bèi).

Mastery of the Chinese preposition 给 (gěi) is crucial. Let’s look at some example sentences:

Sentence 1:

我给你钱。 – Level 24
Wǒ gěi nǐ qián.
Here’s some money for you.

When 给 (gěi) is a verb, it means “to give.” In fact, if you are handing someone something, you can directly say to them “给”(gěi) to indicate you want them to take it. The way you can be sure that 给 (gěi) means “to give” is that it’s the only verb in the sentence.  

If there are other verbs in the sentence, 给 (gěi) is likely in its “relator” form.

Sentences 2 & 3:

他经常打电话给我。 – Level 17
Tā jīngcháng dǎdiànhuà gěi wǒ.
He frequently calls me on the phone.

他给你打了电话以后要出去吃饭。 – Level 23
Tā gěi nǐ dǎ le diànhuà yǐhòu yào chūqu chīfàn.
After he gives you a call, he’ll go out to eat.

In both of these sentences, the Chinese preposition 给 (gěi) relates who is giving a call *to* who. In other words, 给 (gěi) helps show the target of a verb. 

Sentence one: Subject + Action + 给 + Target

Sentence two: Subject + 给 + Target + Action

What’s interesting is that the Chinese preposition 给 (gěi) can come both before and after the verb. 

给 (gěi) comes before the verb more often than after it, but let’s look at a common scenario of it coming after:

Sentences 4 & 5
Chinese Preposition 给 gěi:

请把你右边的那本书拿给我。 – Level 24
Qǐng bǎ nǐ yòubiān de nèi běn shū ná gěi wǒ.
Please hand over that book on your right-hand side.

妈妈送给女儿一台照相机。 – Level 25
Māma sòng gěi nǚér yī tái zhàoxiàngjī.
Mom gave her daughter a camera.

In both of these sentences, the Chinese preposition 给 (gěi) comes after the one-syllable verbs 拿 (ná) and 送 (sòng) respectively to indicate the *target* (我 (wǒ) & 女儿 (nǚ’ér)).

Again, this is not an iron-clad rule that one-syllable verbs precede 给 (gěi) and two or more syllable words come after 给 (gěi), but it comes up most often in this format. 

Now that you know the potential structures the Chinese preposition 给 (gěi) can have as a relator, you’ll notice it all the time. Use this article to note the ways that you can correctly use 给 (gěi), and your input will be that much faster. Remember, grammar rules are meant to help you recognize patterns, not teach you the pattern in the first place.

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