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When we use por and para in Spanish

Today I want to talk to you about another topic that bothers Spanish students, they are the famous prepositions por and para. These two little words give students a lot of trouble because they have several meanings.

Today we are going to start with the uses that cause the most problems, because it is difficult to see when to use POR and when to PARA, and we are going to finish with the uses that are easiest to recognize.

1-If we start with the difficult ones, we have to start talking about why to explain a motive, a reason or a cause.

For example, estudio español por mi trabajo- I study Spanish for my job.

On the other hand we use para as a purpose, a goal, an objective.

For example, estudio español para viajar. -I study Spanish to travel.

I know this usage can be confusing, it’s hard to see the difference between one and the other. That’s why I’m going to give you a little trick to be able to recognize it.

When we say, estudio español por mi trabajo- I study Spanish for my job, in the reason, the second phrase has to come first. In this case, first I have a job and that is why I study Spanish.

On the other hand, with the objective, with the purpose, estudio español para viajar- I study Spanish to travel, the first part of the sentence has to happen first. I study Spanish and then I can travel.

Another thing that usually works is that normally when talking about cause vs purpose, 80% of the time, para will be followed by an infinitive and por by a noun.

Let’s see an example and you are going to tell me if we use por or para. If I say: La fruta es buena _______ sus vitaminas. Fruit is good _______ its vitamins.

What would you say? Por or para? Think!

The answer is por. Why? Because la furta es buena por sus vitaminas, fruit is good for its vitamins. It’s a reason. Fruit has vitamins and is therefore good.

Let’s see another phrase, similar, la fruta es buena ________ la salud. fruit is good ________ health.

What do you say, por or para?

Here we have a purpose. Therefore, it would be la fruta es Buena para la salud, fruit is good for health.

Here, as you see, para is not followed by an infinitive, but the fruit is good, it happens first, and the next is health. If we eat fruit, it is good and we will be healthy.

Reason and purpose, is always a little confusing, a little blurry for Spanish students. But I hope this helps you keep things clear.

2-Let’s now move on to the second use of por and para.

We use por to substitute or replace.

For example, Susana está de vacaciones y hoy doy las clases por ella Susana is on vacation and today I teach classes for her.Instead of Susana, I am her replacement.

And we use para to talk about someone who receives something. El regalo es para Susana. The gift is for Susana.

Here a possible trick or a little help could be to think that we use para when we do something forward, but por is backwards or more static, and changes from one side to the other. But the movement is not forward. For that we use para.

3-Let’s now see por and para when we talk about time.

We use por to indicate frequency.

For example, estudio español tres veces por semana.  I study Spanish three times a week.

Although it is also true that to indicate frequency, instead of por semana, por mes, por año, we can use a la semana o a mes o al año. But if you have to choose between por and para, the choice is por.

We use for also when we talk about parts of the day. Por la mañana, por la tarde, por la noche. For example, voy al gimnasio por la mañana, I go to the gym in the morning.

We also use por when we talk about an approximate time.

For example, iré a mi casa por mayo or iré a España por verano I will go home in May or I will go to Spain in the summer.

I don’t have a specific time, I don’t know if it’s May 1, but it will be around those dates, more or less.

Lastly, we use por when we talk about a period of time. Estuve por tres horas en la fiesta or visité Madrid por tres días, I was at the party for three hours or visited Madrid for three days. Here again, instead of por, we can use another preposition which is durante, during. That’s going to make your life a little easier. Let’s move on now para.

We use para when talking about time when we have a deadline, the last moment to do something. For example, el informe es para mañana or el trabajo es para el 30 de este mes, the report is due tomorrow, or the work is due on the 30th of this month.

Watch out! Because if we have a deadline that includes a part of the day, we can use both. We will say, for example, el informe es para mañana, por la mañana, the report is due tomorrow morning. Deadline and part of the day.

We use para when we talk about the time of events, when something will happen.

For example, iré a España para Navidad, I will go to Spain for Christmas, the event is Christmas. Or, mi familia viene a visitarme para mi cumpleaños, my family is coming to visit me for my birthday.

Watch out here too! As in this case for my birthday is the event. But it could also be the reason and we could say: viene por mi cumpleaños, it’s coming for my birthday.

4-Let’s now talk about por and para to talk about place.

We use por to talk about a movement through a place. For example, caminamos por el parque mañana, we walk in the park tomorrow, also to express an approximate place. For example, trabajo por el centro, I work around the city center. I’m not saying exactly where, but it’s around this area. Or María vive por la playa, María lives by the beach. I don’t know exactly were, but it’s a larger area.

We also use it to indicate something on my way For example, el tren para Madrid pasa por mi ciudad, the train to Madrid passes through my city or de camino al trabajo paso por tu casa, on the way to work I pass by your house.

And we use para when we talk about place, when we talk about a destination, the end point of something.

For example, el tren para León sale a las cinco de la tarde, the train to León leaves at five in the afternoon. Or, in this case, when we talk about destination, we can also use the preposition hacia, towards, el tren a León or el tren hacia León the train to León or the train towards León.

These are the slightly more conflictive uses that cause more problems for students because the line to recognize one and the other is a bit blurred, but now we are going to see some extra uses of por and some extra uses of para, but they are easier to recognize.

We start with by.

-We use por also to express a means of communication. For example, hablo por teléfono, I talk on the phone or viajo a España por avión, travel to Spain by plane. Here again, be careful, when we talk about means of transportation, instead of por, we can use en, viajo a España en avión, I travel to Spain by plane. Except if we are walking, we will say vamos a pie, on foot.

-We also use por when we express a change. For example, cambié la falda por la chaqueta, I changed the skirt for the jacket. Or whenever we talk about money, when we buy something, there is an exchange. For example, , compré esta chaqueta por 10 libras, I bought this jacket for £10.

-We also use por when we talk about the author of something. Normally, in English, we translate it as by. For example, el libro fue escrito por Cervantes, the book was written by Cervantes.

-Let’s now see other uses of para,

-we use it to express opinion. For example, para mí la película fue divertida, for me the movie was fun.

-lastly, we also use it to compare. For example, para ser tan joven es muy responsible, for being so young he is very responsible or para ser ingeniero no es tan inteligente, for being an engineer he is not that intelligent. We are comparing two things that are normally opposites and we are surprised to see them together.

Well, this is it. That’s it for the explanation of por anda para. I hope that, as always, it has been useful and if you had problems recognizing por and para, it has become a little clearer for you.

To help you check if you have understood it a little better, I have created some exercises, some extra phrases that you can practice with in this link. Phrases come with solutions, too.

If you still have any questions about these uses of por and para leave them in the comments.

Also, I would love for you to leave in the comments a phrase using por and another using para with one of the uses that we have seen in this post to practice.

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