If you are learning Spanish, you may find that that por and para are both quite similar to “for” in English. But they are not exactly the same. They can not be used exchangeably, nor are they used in the same ways as “for” in English.
Por and Para are just one of the many words and grammatical cases that do not have an exact equivalent in English. Think of it as the case with “ser” and “estar”.
If that wasn’t enough, these two words can also mean “by”, “on”, “through”, “because of”, “to”, “in order to”, among other prepositions. In some cases, they can even mean “Why?” !
For today’s article, we have prepared a very schematic and straightforward guide encompassing all the different grammatical cases these two words have, accompanied by tons of examples.
I am completely sure you will find it very useful, and you will learn almost all their uses and semantic nuances!
You will be able to understand when to use por vs para, as well as to comprehend the slightest differences in meaning between the two prepositions.
Por and para: main differences and use cases
In general, por has a “causal” meaning, that is, it is, broadly speaking, used to express cause or consequence together with a sort of “through”. On the other hand, the semantics of para is centered around finality.
Of course, even though there are cases in which they are exactly and strictly used to express consequence or finality, there are many others in which their functions are entirely different, but they preserve this abstract essence and semantics; para is finality, a movement towards, and por is the space and trajectory of the movement, so to speak.
Por and para can have many different meanings based on the context.
Por can be used as:
- because of
- through / across /around
- in exchanged for
Para can be used as:
- for the benefit of
- in order to
- for (expressing a sense of “deadline”)
Feeling a bit overwhelmed? Don’t worry! Prepositions in Spanish are not exactly the same as in English. So there is no need to try to find an exact equivalent. Instead, the best way is to learn them in context and through constant practice. LingoDeer can help you pick up grammar points like por vs para easily as you progress in Spanish. Check it out!
Anyway, there is no need to solve any abstract reasoning puzzles here, so let’s get straight to the point!
Por vs para: consequence vs finality
Por – because of, for
Por expresses consequence. If an object, a person or a verb is followed by “por”, it means that object or person is the consequence of something (or that something is happening because of that person or object).
Todo lo que hice, fue por ti.
All what I did, it was for you.
“You” is the consequence that the subject of the sentence did all of what he or she did. It could also be expressed as “All I did was because of you”.
Todo esto ha sucedido por su egoismo.
All of this has happened because of his selfishness.
Here por is acting as “because of”. His selfishness was the cause.
Queremos hacerlo por el bien de nuestro planeta.
We want to do it for the good of our planet.
“The good of our planet” is the reason why they want to do whatever they want to do. It could also somewhat be expressed in English as “because of the good of our own planet”.
¿Ves? Por esto no quiero ser tu amigo.
See? That’s why I don’t want to be your friend.
(because of this I don’t want to be your friend).
Again, “por” is expressing the consequence.
Ha tenido problemas de salud por comer mucho esa fruta.
He has had health problems for (because of) eating too much that fruit.
In this case, por is expressing that the verb/action “comer” is the consequence; for/as a consequence of eating too much of that fruit, he has had health problems
Para – “For the benefit of”, “in order to”
Contrary to por, para expresses the finality, the endpoint, of an action/verb or object.
Todo lo que hice, fue para ti.
All what I did, was for you.
“You” is the finality, the receiver of all I did. For instance, if I say “es para ti”, it means “it is for your benefit”, “aimed toward you”. If I say “por ti” it means “You are the consequence I did something”.
Este es mi regalo de cumpleaños para ti.
This is my birthday present for you.
Again, you is the finality, the receiver, therefore we use “para”.
Tenemos leche para desayunar.
We have milk for breakfast.
“Para” because it is the finality the milk will be used for.
Lo hago para gustarte.
I do it in so that you like me.
The finality of doing it is that you like me.
A last example to understand the difference between Por and Para:
Hago esto por gusto.
I do this for pleasure (because I like it).
The reason why you do it is because you like doing it.
Hago esto para que me guste.
I do this so that/in order to like it.
You are doing it with a finality, the finality is that you will end up liking it, by doing it.
2. Por and para: time
Por – During, for
He estado haciéndolo durante/por 4 años .
I have been doing it for 4 years.
In reality, “durante” would look more natural here, but por is also correct.
He estado haciéndolo por la tarde.
I have been doing it during the afternoon.
Remember, when it comes to time, por= during/for.
Para – For (expressing a sense of “deadline” or an endpoint in time)
Lo quiero para la tarde.
I want it for this afternoon.
Por would mean during, if you say “lo quiero por la tarde”, it would mean you want it at some point during the afternoon, “para la tarde”, the afternoon itself is the endpoint/the deadline.
3. Por and para: location
Por – through, across or around.
Había sangre por todo el suelo.
There was blood all around the groun.
Estamos yendo por el campo.
We are going across the field.
Está por aquí.
It’s around here/the place.
Remember when I said that por is used to express a sort of “through” or “space in between”? In general, when it comes to space/location, “por” is used exactly for that.
Para – towards, to
Estoy yendo para/a la escuela.
I am going to (towards) the school.
Está yendo hacia la pared.
It is going towards the wall.
Whilst por is used to refer to the “space in between” (remember I am talking in abstract terms), para is used to refer to the destination, the endpoint, the place something is going to/towards.
4. Other uses of para
Use para to express opinion
Para mí, hacer eso está mal moralmente.
To me/in my opinion, doing it is morally wrong.
When you say “para mí”, “para ti”, “para él”, or in general “para + an indirect pronoun”, and then express an opinion, you mean that the person the indirect pronoun is referring to holds that opinion.
5. Other uses of por
Use por in passive voices like by
Todo el esfuerzo fue realizado por mí.
All this effort was carried out by me.
Warning: However, when it comes to expressing who the author of something (eg, a book) is, in Spanish, it is used “de”, and not “por”
Este libro es de Miguel de Cervantes.
This book is by Miguel de Cervantes.
Por is used as “by means of”/by” when it comes to telecommunications
Nos pondremos en contacto por teléfono.
We will get in touch by phone.
Lo han dicho por la televisión.
They said it on TV.
Por is used as “in exchanged for”
Te puedo ofrecer 1000 euros por el coche.
I can offer 1000 euros for/in exchange for the car.
Puedo darte mi coche por tu avión.
I can give you my car in exchange for your plane.
Yes, sometimes understanding linguistic concepts like the difference between por and para can be hard and confusing, especially when they do not exist in your own native language.
But it is also very illuminating and, once finally grasped, very rewarding!
By combining learning these rules with exposing yourself to Spanish-speaking environment, you’ll soon realize that using grammar rules is not as hard as you think. They’ll eventually become natural to you.