Confused about por and para? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered
If you’ve already started to learn Spanish, you might have heard that por and para both mean “for”. This is true, sometimes, but it’s better to focus on the idea that por and para are commonly used in Spanish when we use “for” in English. So, when you want to say “for” in English, you have to choose between por and para.
I’m afraid they are not interchangeable and there’s no magic rule to help us choose the right one each time… I wish there was!
Depending on the context, por and para can in fact be translated as by, on, through, in order to, because of, in exchange of, and a variety of other phrases and prepositions. And this is why lots of people find it hard.
If you just understand the basic ideas behind por and para, we reckon you’ll be able to choose the right one at the right time about three quarters of the time. And when you don’t, it won’t take you long to understand your mistake! We recommend you start by learning these specific uses (see below) and then just get practicing!
When to use para
Para has an underlying sense of destination, purpose, of movement towards a goal. You might find it helpful to picture the word para as a big red arrow. Take a look at these examples:
1- One of the most common uses of para is when you’re talking about a destination:
- Este jabón es para el baño ⎮ This soap is for the bathroom
- The destination of the soap is the office.
2- Para is also used to express a purpose, goal or aim (i.e. in order to):
(Don’t forget: when followed by an infinitive, para means “in order to”)
- Estos zapatos son para correr ⎮These shoes are for running
- Como para vivir ⎮ I eat to live – I eat in order to live
3- When you’re talking about a recipient:
- Este regalo es para mi padre ⎮ This present is for my father
4- Or expressing a personal opinion:
- Para mí, el español es hermoso ⎮ In my opinion, Spanish is beautiful
5- Last but not least, you use para to communicate a deadline (fecha límite)!
- Necesito la ropa para el viernes ⎮ I need the clothes for Friday
When to use por
Think of por as something that goes between two things. Like a path between start and finish. Some examples:
1- One of the most common uses of por is for expressing duration of time.
When you’d say “for” in English and you’re talking about duration, say por in Spanish:
- Cada día intento estudiar español por dos horas ⎮ I try to study Spanish for two hours each day
2- Por translates the English ‘per’ into Spanish:
- Ella lee tres libros por mes ⎮ She reads three books per month
3- When you’d say “for” in English and you’re talking about a purchase, trade, exchange or substitute, you use por:
- Pagué cinco libras por la pizza ⎮ I paid five pounds for the pizza
4- And when you’re giving thanks, use por again!
- Gracias por las flores ⎮ Thanks for the flowers ☺
- ¡Gracias por ayudarme a instalar Zoom! ⎮ Thank you for helping me install Zoom!
5- Por is always used to express the time of day:
Por la mañana In the morning
- Prefiero ducharme por la mañana ⎮ I prefer to shower in the morning
Por la tarde In the afternoon
- Por la tarde me gusta pasar tiempo en el jardín ⎮ In the afternoon I like to spend time in the garden
Por la noche In the evening / at night
- Suelo hacer yoga por la noche ⎮ I often do yoga in the evening
6- Always use por with communication methods:
- Te escribo por email ⎮ I’m writing to you by email
- Wouldn’t it just feel wrong to write “te escribo para email”?
7- Por = “through”. Another good tip is to sometimes think of por as “through”.
“Through” usually implies a path of some kind. A path between two things:
- Ella camina por la tienda ⎮ She walks through the shop
- Nos paseamos por el parque ⎮ We strolled through the park
- Here, the path is between the entrance and exit to the shop / park.
8- Emotions: expressing a like (or dislike) for someone or something…
- Tengo mucho respeto por mis amigos ⎮ I have a lot of respect for my friends
9- And a few more for luck!
por eso; por lo tanto
por (lo) general
por primera vez
por todas partes
around here; this way
for the first time
So there we are, our very own introduction to por and para. We really hope it’s helped you break the ice with one of the trickiest topics in the Spanish language. The next step is to think of sentences which use both por and para!
Written by @Gabriella Turner