Por and Para: What’s the Difference? | My Daily Spanish
My Daily Spanish
Shares

Por and Para: What’s the Difference?

Shares

Por and para both translate into English as ‘for,’ but they can’t be used interchangeably! In this article we’ll show you when to opt for por and when to pick para.

The way some people like to look at it is that por is used for looking back to the cause or origin of something, and para is used for forward-looking things (like purpose or destination). But this is a massive generalization, and we want you to understand the difference in more detail.

When to use para

Para is often used in the sense of looking forward towards a goal/deadline/effect. Let’s look at para first, as it has fewer complicated uses than por!

BONUS: Sometimes, in more colloquial speech, you’re likely to hear para shortened to pa. Listen out for it in Spanish movies and songs!

Final goal/destination/purpose/object

One of the main uses of para is to talk about the final goal or purpose of something.

—¿Para qué es esto?

—Es para limpiar los platos.

What is this for?

It’s for washing dishes.

Una mesa para tres, por favor.

A table for 3 (people), please.

Come verduras para mantenerse sano.

He eats vegetables to stay healthy.

Compré algo para ti.

I bought something for you.

Advantage or disadvantage

When something is good/bad for someone/something.

Beber demasiado alcohol es malo para la salud.

Drinking too much alcohol is bad for the health.

Eres muy importante para mí.

You are very important to/for me.

Deadline

We use para to express that something needs to be done by a certain time.

Los deberes son para el martes.

The homework is for (to be handed in by) Tuesday.

Necesito un vestido para mañana.

I need a dress for/by tomorrow.

Direction after motion verbs

We can use para to say where we’re headed.

Este autobús va para las montañas.

This bus is for the mountains.

Voy para casa.

I’m going/heading home.

Reaction/response

Use para to say that a certain reaction or feeling is being had by a specific person.

Para mí, huele a fresa.

To me, it smells of strawberry.

Para Pedro, Diana es perfecto.

In Pedro’s eyes, Diana is perfect.

When we want to say ‘for’ in the sense of ‘considering’ or ‘given,’ we use para.

Sofía lee bien para su edad.

Sofía reads well for her age.

Para + infinitive = in order to

We can use para with an infinitive, to mean ‘in order to.’

Me lo compré para llevar a la fiesta.

I bought it to wear to the party.

Marcos estudia para aprobar los exámenes.

Marcos studies (in order) to pass his exams.

Estar para + infinitive = about to

Estar para means to be about to do/on the verge of doing something.

Están para salir.

They’re about to go out.

When to use por

As we’ve mentioned, por is often used when talking about the root or cause of something, but not always. It’s used in various ways, as we’ve shown below. Some of the categories are very similar, and may overlap, but looking at a variety of situations will help you get the picture!

BONUS: After looking at these examples, the phrase ¿por qué? should now make sense, as it literally means ‘for what?’

Cause

The first use we’ll look at is cause. When something is the cause of something else, we can use por to mean ‘because of.’

Vengo a Barcelona por su arquitectura.

I come to Barcelona for/because of its architecture.

Las flores murieron por falta de sol.

The flowers died for/due to lack of sunlight.

This can include emotional states. Let’s say you’re feeling sad because you’ve just done an exam and you feel it hasn’t gone very well.

—¿Por qué estás triste?

Why are you sad?

—Por el examen.

Because of the exam.

How something works

We use por to explain how something works or happens, i.e. it happens through/by means of.

El microondas funciona por radiación.

The microwave works by means of radiation.

El coche marcha por gasolina.

The car runs on gasoline.

Manner of communication or travel

We use por to describe the way in which something (e.g. a person or a piece of information) has traveled.

Me lo dijo por teléfono.

S/he told me by phone.

Fuimos por avión.

We went by plane.

Lo enviaré por correo.

I’ll send it by/in the post.

Behalf

We use por when describing things done on someone’s behalf.

Llamé a Juan por ti.

I called Juan for you/on your behalf.

For the sake of

Por can be used to refer to doing something for the sake/good of something/someone.

Voy a dejar de beber por mi salud.

I’m going to quit drinking for the sake of my health.

But it can also be used to portray a pointless action:

Pelear por pelear.

To fight for the sake of fighting.

Lo está lavando por lavar.

He’s just washing it for the sake of it.

In favor of 

Earlier we saw that estar para means ‘to be about to.’

If we use por instead of para, we get a completely different phrase. Estar por is used to literally say you’re for (as opposed to against) something.

Estoy por los derechos humanos.

I’m for (in favor of) human rights.

Yet to be done

Another way we can use estar with por is to talk about something that needs to be done, or will be done. Just put an infinitive after the por!

El baño está por limpiar.

The bathroom needs to be/is yet to be cleaned.

Laura está por llegar.

Laura is yet to arrive.

Location

Por can be used to say that you’re going through a location, or to describe the general area of that location.

Vamos a Nueva Zelanda por Australia.

We’re going to New Zealand via Australia.

Keith viajó por Perú.

Keith traveled around Peru.

Similarly, if an object moves through another object, use por.

El hilo pasó por el ojo de la aguja.

The thread passed through the eye of the needle.

Exchange/price

Use por to say that you bought something for a certain amount, or to describe swapping something for something else.

Juan compró el reloj por 1.500€.

Juan bought the watch for €1,500.

Por tus galletas, te doy mis patatas fritas.

For your biscuits, I’ll give you my chips.

Multiplied by

In math, por is used when multiplying numbers. It translates in this case as ‘by.’

Tres por tres son nueve.

3x3=9

La hoja de papel mide 6 por 10 cm.

The sheet of paper measures 6 by 10 cm.

‘By’ in passive constructions

Por is often used in what we call ‘passive constructions’ when we want to describe something that was done by someone.’ Check out these examples:

El libro fue escrito por Cervantes.

The book was written by Cervantes.

La mujer fue atacada por el cocodrilo.

The woman was attacked by the crocodile.

To take for…

To perceive someone or something in a certain way.

¡No me tomes por idiota!

Don’t take me for an idiot.

Lo damos por sentado.

We take him for granted.

To judge by/going by

This is a situation when you want to make a judgement based on some other information.

Por lo que me dijo, ...

Going by what she told me, …

Por su voz, creo que estaba feliz.

Judging by his voice, I think he was happy.

In search of something

This one is a little counterintuitive, but we can use por when we are going to get something.

Fui (a) por mi coche.

I went for (to get) my car.

Marc fue a la tienda por fruta.

Marc went to the store for (to buy) fruit.

However…

We don’t mean ‘however’ in the sense of ‘but.’ We’re using it in the sense of ‘however much X happens, Y won’t happen.’ Check out the examples:

Por más te quejes, no cambiará nada.

However much you complain, nothing will change.

Por mucho dinero que tenga, no comprará un coche nuevo.

However much money he has, he won’t buy a new car.

Duration

This one is a little complicated.  In some situations, para (in the case of the duration of something in the future), or maybe even no preposition at all, will be preferable. But here’s when you usually use por:

When you want to emphasize that something only lasted for a short period of time, use por.

Solo estuvo por un momento.

He was only here for a moment.

When you want to say how long something lasted in general, Latin Americans may use por whereas Spaniards may use durante.

Me quedé en el hotel por/durante dos semanas.

I stayed in the hotel for two weeks.

Gracias

When giving thanks for something, we always use por not para.

Gracias por el anillo.

Thank you for the ring.

Muchas gracias por venir.

Thank you very much for coming.

Time for a quiz!

Pick the correct answer for each of the following phrases:

1. I came to ask to you a favor.

a. Vine para pedirte un favor. 

b. Vine por pedirte un favor.

Click to view correct answer

2. The boy was rejected by Ana.

a. El chico fue rechazado por Ana.

b. El chico fue rechazado para Ana.

Click to view correct answer

3. You have to have written it by tomorrow.

a. Tienes que haberlo escrito por mañana.

b. Tienes que haberlo escrito para mañana.

Click to view correct answer

4. Thank you for being my best friend.

a. Gracias por ser mi mejor amiga. 

bGracias para ser mi mejor amiga.

Click to view correct answer

5. I’ll sell it to you for $10.

a. Te lo vendo para $10.

b. Te lo vendo por $10.

Click to view correct answer

Phew!

In this article we’ve looked at the differences between por and para. There’s a lot to take in, so just try to practice a little every day. ¡Gracias por leer!

For more articles like this, subscribe to My Daily Spanish below!

About the Author Annabel Beilby

Annabel is a language-enthusiast from the UK. She studied Spanish and French at the University of Southampton (with an Erasmus study year in Madrid!) and recently graduated. She has interests across the Spanish-speaking world, and is a fan of language in general.

>