Taking the award for Most Confusing Grammar Topic for Spanish Learners is por vs para. These two little Spanish prepositions remain one of the most elusive concepts in the language but – is it really that difficult?
In this article, we’ll be going over everything you need to know about these two words and you’ll find out that it’s not impossible.
So if you’ve been waiting for the day you’ll finally say Wow, Spanish grammar really isn’t that difficult – then keep on reading!
What is Por vs Para?
These two words are Spanish prepositions that are incredibly important when it comes time to speak Spanish. Just like in English, Spanish has many prepositions that you can treat sort of like vocabulary.
Some examples of prepositions in English are:
In other words – prepositions are just grammar words that express a specific meaning. In general, they can be a bit tricky for learners of any language since sometimes prepositions don’t translate directly. But we’ll go over that in a minute! One problem at a time.
Why are they so difficult?
More so than other grammar words, por vs para often cause a lot of confusion for Spanish learners. The main reason for this is because they both por and para translate to the word “for” in English.
Well, sort of. It’s actually better to think of the word “for” as having many different meanings in English. Try looking up “for” in the dictionary. You’ll be scrolling for hours!
So if you really want to master por vs para, then you’ll need to think meta about language learning.
That’s because the best way to understand these two words is by understanding the meaning and the reason we use them in different contexts – rather than trying to translate everything.
So as you continue reading, try to think about what por and para express and don’t get so caught up on an exact English equivalent.
Por vs Para: A quick overview
So before we get into going over all of the rules for por and para, it might be helpful to know some of the many different meanings of the words.
Check out this list of just a few of the different meanings that both por and para express.
|In order to
As you can see – it can be a bit complicated if we’re just trying to translate an English word into Spanish conversations, so it’s best to just learn the different meanings of each one separately.
Uses of Para
Let’s start with para. This one is actually the easier of the two because it has fewer meanings. It’s also less frequently used – so we’ll start off light.
This isn’t a 100% complete list of every single definition of para, but it’s a good start. The RAE (The official Spanish-language dictionary) provides 10 different meanings for para. But for today, we’ll start with the 5 most common.
When you want to talk about the final destination when you’re heading somewhere, then we’ll use this word. If you’re ever traveling, you’ll be hearing this word a lot. Here are a few examples:
- En cinco minutos vamos para allí. – In five minutes, we’ll be on our way there.
- Voy para arriba. – I’m going upstairs.
- El tren sale para Buenos Aires. – The train leaves for Buenos Aires.
As you can see, para refers to a physical destination or location. In all of these examples, we’re worried about the destination, not the journey.
This is the easiest of the uses, so let’s move on to the next.
Sometimes you can substitute para for other prepositions. For example, you can say “El tren sale hacia Buenos Aires”.
The next way to use para is when you want to refer to a specific time for deadlines. If you need to take classes or work in a Spanish-speaking environment, this is something you’ll hear all the time.
Here are a couple of examples:
- Quiero el informe para mañana. – I want the report by tomorrow.
- Hay que hacer los deberes para el lunes. – The homework is for Monday.
This is a great example to see how the word para doesn’t always mean “for”, it can also have other meanings like “by” when we’re talking about deadlines.
The structure is very simple – just use para + the time. Para mañana, para el 4 de enero, para el martes.
Deadlines are another great way to distinguish por vs para. For example, in the second sentence, changing para for por would mean that the homework is due around Monday if the deadline is flexible.
Now we’re moving on to some of the parts that can cause some more confusion. In many cases, you can substitute por and para in a way that might seem acceptable to an English speaker – but in Spanish, it changes the meaning.
In this section, we’re paying attention to the purpose – the goal in mind.
- ¿Para qué haces eso? – What are you doing that for?
- Juego a videojuegos para desconectar. – I play video games (in order) to disconnect.
- Para llegar a la Plaza del Ayuntamiento, tienes que tomar la línea 3 del metro. – (in order) To get to the Town Hall’s Square, you have to take Metro Line 3.
In all of these three sentences, there is a clear goal. Sometimes you can translate this as “in order to” in statements. If you can do that and it makes sense – you’ll want to use para.
Para que always requires the Spanish subjunctive afterwards. For example: “Escribo artículos para que puedas aprender el español.”
When we want to talk about who will receive something, then we use para. This can either be for the recipient of an action, or the receiver in a more grammatical sense. Here are a few examples:
- En la herencia, la casa de la montaña es para mi hermana. – In the inheritance, the mountain house is for my sister.
- Tengo una sorpresa para ti. – I have a surprise for you.
- Ese deporte no es para mí. – That sport isn’t for me.
For those times when you want to say “According to X” or “In my opinion”, we can use para + the person. This is a great use of the word to master when learning Spanish since it’s something you’ll use often in conversation.
- Para ti, ¿cuál es el mejor? – For you/In your opinion, which is the best?
Es demasiado picante para mí. – It’s too spicy for me.
Uses of Por
Now we’ve gone through half of the differences between por vs para! See, learning Spanish isn’t as hard as you thought, right? Let’s move on to some of the most common uses of the word por.
Here we are focused on the journey, not the destination. In English, we can translate por into many different words: around, through, nearby, etc. But in each of these examples, the purpose of this Spanish grammar word is to highlight the movement.
- Me voy a ir de viaje por Europa. – I’m going on a trip around Europe.
- Me gusta caminar por el parque. – I like to walk through the park.
- Tienes que pasar por el túnel. – You have to go through the tunnel.
When it comes to time or periods of time, we always use por before the number. This should be easy since we do the same thing in English.
- Solo dormí por 5 horas. – I only slept for 5 hours.
- Tengo que manejar por 2 horas todos los días. – I have to drive for 2 hours everyday.
Note – in most cases, por can be swapped out for durante for this meaning.
On behalf of
This is another one that can be tricky for English speakers. Here, por refers to an action that is carried out on behalf of someone else.
In other words – you’re doing something so that they don’t need to. Here are contexts where this would happen:
- La madre tiene que firmar por su hija. – The mother had to sign for/on behalf of her daughter.
- La ministra decide por el presidente. – The minister decides for/on behalf of the president.
- No puedo hablar por él, – I can’t speak for him.
This is one of the most common mistakes students make – so keep reading to learn how to avoid this trap.
Need to pay for something? Anything that involves some sort of exchange will use por – including money:
- Lo compré por 15 dólares. – I bought it for 15 dollars.
- El niño cambió su cromo por el juguete. – The boy changed his card for the toy.
This is probably the easiest usage, so you probably don’t need to work too hard to memorize these rules!
This is another key difference between por vs para. While para focuses on the goal, por refers to the reasoning or cause. So in the first sentence, we’re asking about the reasoning – regardless of the goal.
- ¿Por qué tienes tanta prisa? – Why are you in such a hurry?
- Estoy contento por haber acabado el trabajo. – I’m happy because I finished the project.
- El restaurante está cerrado por vacaciones. – The restaurant is closed for holiday.
In this sense, the translation for por could be why, because, because of, for, or due to.
Finally, por can refer to the means of doing something. How you do something. Check out these three sentences:
- Hablamos por teléfono – We spoke on the phone
- Envíamelo por correo electrónico – Email it to me
- La mercancía se transporta por barco – The cargo is transported by/via ship
So in all of these sentences, we’re focused on the means or the medium used to do something.
Por vs para can be a really tricky subject for English speakers while learning Spanish – and that’s fair! Prepositions are often the hardest part of a language, so it certainly takes practice.
But to make sure you’re one step ahead of everyone else – make sure you avoid the most common mistake:
|Trabajo por mi compañero que hoy no puede.
(I’m working on behalf of my coworker because he can’t today)
|Trabajo para Apple
(I work for Apple)
In other words – trabajo por is used when you cover someone’s shift or are helping them. But trabajo para means they are your employer.
So don’t fall into that trap the next time you are practicing Spanish!
Lo hacemos por ti
Hopefully now you’re more comfortable with the difference between por vs para. It’s definitely a topic that you’ll need to practice often, but it’s not so difficult!
Once you start learning it in context and you practice all of the rules – suddenly it’s not so hard.
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