Distinguishing the difference between “por” and “para” can be quite a tricky task for many Spanish language learners, and with good reason.
In Spanish, both “por” and “para” mean not only for, but also through, on, in exchange for, by and many others. Taking this into consideration, it is understandable that this topic easily confuses most learners, even those who have an advanced level of Spanish. Por suerte (luckily) this blog is a sure fire way to help you master this confusing topic.
Let’s get started!
Por vs Para
Lets start with “por” as it is the more confusing of the two due to its many uses and different meanings. Por is used to talk about movement, modes and means of travel and communication, exchanges, duration, and motivation, among other things. Let’s take a closer look at some examples of these common uses of por:
Rule: To express gratitude or apology
Te pido disculpas por haberte molestado.
I am sorry for having bothered you.
Rule: Used for multiplication and division
Seis dividido por tres es dos.
Six divided by three is two.
Rule: used for velocity, frequency or proportion
El auto va a 150 kilómetros por hora.
The car goes 150 kilometers per hour.
Voy al supermercado 3 veces por mes.
I go the the supermarket 3 times per week.
Rule: referring to through, by, along, or in the area of
Andamos por la zona.
We are walking around the area.
Rule: used to talk about exchanges, including in sales
Me vendió las 3 paltas por 100 pesos.
He sold me the three avocados for 100 pesos.
Rule: to mean “on behalf of” or “in favor of”
Yo no voté por el presidente actual.
I did not vote for the current president.
Rule: used to express a length of time
Estuve en la fiesta por solo dos horas.
I was only at the party for two hours.
Rule: in cases of mistaken identity or to mean “they take me as/for”
Me toman por boludo.
They take me for an idiot.
Rule: to show reason for an errand (with ir, venir, mandar, volver, and preguntar)
Paso por el supermercado a las 18 hrs.
I am going to the supermarket at 6 pm.
¿Alguien preguntó por mi mientras estaba en el baño?
Did anyone ask for me while I was in the bathroom?
Rule: When followed by an infinitive, an action that is yet to be completed
Estamos por servir la cena.
We are about to serve dinner.
Rule: To express cause or reason
Mi amiga se mudó con su madre por falta de dinero.
My friend moved in with her mom for lack of money.
“Por” also appears in many idiomatic expression. Below Is a list of some of the most common ones for you to familiarize yourself with. Learning these expressions will help you to express yourself in many situations!
Por adelantado – in advance
por ahora – for now
por ahí – around there
por aquí – around here
por casualidad – by chance
por cierto – by the way
por dentro – inside
por desgracia – unfortunately
por ejemplo – unfortunately
por lo general – generally
por medio de – by means of
por lo tanto – consequently
por mi parte – as for me
por ultimo – finally
por primera vez – for the first time
por todos lados – everywhere
por favor – please
Now we will move on to “para” which has relatively fewer uses. Para is used to talk about destinations, recipients, deadlines, and goals. Check out the following examples of these common uses of para.
Rule: to inidicate destination
Mi abuelo salió para Mendoza.
My grandpa left for Mendoza.
Rule: to show the use or the purpose of a thing
Este cuarto es para los huéspedes.
This room is for guests.
Rule: to mean “in order to”
Para hacer una tortilla de papa, primero freí las papas.
To make a tortilla de papa, first you have to fry the potatoes.
Rule: to indicate a recipient
Este libro es para vos.
This libro is for you.
Rule: to express a deadline or specific time
Necesito la cena lista para las 8 pm.
I need dinner ready by 8 pm.
Rule: “estar para” is used to express an action that is about to be completed
Estaba para salir cuando sonó el teléfono.
I was about to leave when the phone rang.
It is quite important to learn to use these two prepositions correctly because if you inadvertently substitute one for the other, you might end up saying something altogether different from what you had intended.
Lets take a look at these two examples:
Derek compró el regalo para Nacho. Derek bought the gift for Nacho. (he bought it to give to Nacho)
Derek compró el regalo por Nacho. Derek bought the gift for Nacho. (he bought it because Nacho could not)
“Por” and “para” can also be used in questions. “¿Por qué?” means “Why?” (for what reason) while “¿Para qué?” means “Why?” (for what purpose).
¿Por qué estudias español? For what reason do you study Spanish?
Porque es un requisito. Because it’s required.
¿Para qué estudias español? For what purpose do you study Spanish?
Para ser profesor de español. In order to become a Spanish teacher
As you can see, this topic is a bit more complex than what it seems at first glance. However, by learning the principle uses of these two important prepositions you will get the hang of it in no time. Take advantage of our go to guide to become a master of these precarious prepositions!
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