When To Use Por Vs. Para: Spanish Grammar
By Ivy do Carmo
You are having a conversation in Spanish with a native. You are feeling pretty good with yourself because you are managing to speak with clarity and things are flowing.
But then suddenly, you freeze in the middle of a sentence and think to yourself: “wait a second, should I use the word por or the word para right now?” And all of your confidence runs down the drain because honestly, you have no idea.
Relax my friend, you are not alone. One of the most common difficulties of the Spanish learners is to really know how to differentiate these two words, por vs. para. Let’s figure out how to use them correctly? Follow me.
Differences between por vs. para
The first thing you should understand is the reason for the confusion around these two words: it is because we are taught, at the beginner level of our Spanish course, that both words mean for. Well, that is not wrong, as you can see in these examples:
Esto es para mi.
(This is for me.)
Pagué $60 por estos zapatos.
(I paid $60 for these shoes.)
However, just because something is not wrong, that doesn’t mean it is entirely correct, right? Besides for, por and para can correspond to other prepositions in English. Check out some of them:
Por: for, to, because of, by, on, in, through, instead of, during, per
Para: for, in order to, according to, by, on
Ok, now you probably feel even more desperate than before. But don’t close this tab and say “I’ll never understand this por vs. para thing, Spanish is too hard to learn” just yet. Let’s see how to use each one of them:
When to use Para in Spanish
1) The most common use of this preposition is to express the purpose or the objective of an action. In this case, para is translated as in order to.
See the examples below and try to read them out loud to practice your Spanish pronunciation in the meantime:
Estudio el español para hablar con gente de Argentina.
(I study Spanish in order to talk to people from Argentina.)
Necesitamos hablar para discutir unas cosas importantes.
(We need to talk in order to discuss some important things.)
Trabaja para ganar dinero.
(He works in order to earn money.)
If you want to be sure that a sentence is expressing the purpose of something, simply ask why. If you can find the answer within the sentence, there you go! You can use para without fear. Let me exemplify with the three sentences above:
Why do you speak Spanish? To talk to people from Argentina.
Why do we need to talk? To discuss some important things.
Why does he work? To earn money.
2) A second use of the word para is to talk about the destination of a person or of an object. It can also be used to refer to the recipient of something:
Salgo para Chile esta noche.
(I leave for Chile tonight.)
Voy para Europa.
(I’m heading to Europe.)
Este cuadro es para un museo en Madrid.
(This painting is for a museum in Madrid.)
Este pastel es para mi madre.
(This cake is for my mother.)
3) You can also use para to refer to a deadline, a time or a date in the future:
La cita es para el jueves.
(The appointment is on Thursday.)
Para mañana estará hecho.
(It will be done by tomorrow.)
Llámame para las nueve.
(Call me by nine o´clock.)
4) The last use of para we’ll talk about today is to express an opinion:
Para mí, el español es más romántico que el italiano.
(For me, Spanish is more romantic than Italian.)
Los estudiantes son el futuro para la profesora.
(The students are the future according to the teacher.)
Para mi es difícil aprender inglés.
(For me, it’s difficult to learn English.)
Let’s now talk about the other half of the por vs. para fight?
When to use Por in Spanish
1) You can use por to explain the reason or motive of an action. In this case, por means because of:
Por su amor de español, siempre lo estudiaba.
(Because of his love for Spanish, he always studied it.)
Por el número de gente que vino, pedí más comida.
(Because of the number of people who came, I ordered more food.)
Los conflictos originaron por las diferencias culturales e ideológicas.
(The conflicts began because of the cultural and ideological differences.)
No fui a trabajar por la gripe.
(I didn’t go to work because of the flu.)
2) Also use por to talk about the duration or period of time of an action:
Viajamos en coche por ocho horas.
(We traveled by car for eight hours.)
Estudié por cinco horas.
(I studied for five hours.)
Debes pensar en otras personas por sólo un momento.
(You ought to think about other people for just a moment.)
3) If you’re telling how much you’ve paid for something, use por. Actually, this applies to any exchange you make:
Se lo vendí por 15 mil escudos.
(I sold it for 15 thousand escudos.)
Te daré mi galleta por tu pastelito.
(I´ll give you my cookie for your cupcake.)
Hoy solamente, puedes comprar dos pizzas por $ 10.
(Today only, you can buy two pizzas for $10.)
4) The last use of por is to talk about means of communication or transportation:
Viajamos por tren a Italia.
(We travel by train to Italy.)
Hablamos por teléfono anoche.
(We talked on the phone last night.)
Lo avisaré por teléfono.
(I will notify you by phone.)
That’s basically it! Don’t worry about memorizing all of these rules. You should just try to understand them and practice until you don’t have to think of which to use anymore: por vs. para, para vs. por. It will come naturally to you over time, I promise!
But speaking about por vs. para practice, I’ve got two good tips for you: the first one is a program called Anki, where you can create card decks with a sentence in Spanish on one side and the translation in English on the other side. It is great to practice!
The other tip is practicing with quizzes, such as Por vs Para Quiz – Test Your Spanish Grammar Knowledge and Learn Spanish – Por vs. Para Quiz.
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