Por vs Para: How To Use Them Both With Examples In Context

  • Jada Lòpez
    Written byJada Lòpez
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Por vs Para: How To Use Them Both With Examples In Context

Por or para?

It’s often a challenge for non-native Spanish speakers to know which of these to use.

If you are just beginning to learn Spanish, you might already know how difficult it is to distinguish between ser and estar

Well, por vs para is another one.

Why is it so difficult to tell these two words apart?

It’s a challenge because, on the whole, both of these words mean ‘for’ in English.

So, your goal is to know which contexts require por and which require para.

You might also benefit from knowing that por and para also have other meanings, which takes the difficulty of telling them apart up a notch. But, don’t worry! You’ll become a master at using por and para with the little hints we’ll reveal in this blog post.

You’ll also benefit from the range of usage examples we’ve got lined up.

But first…

What are the other meanings of por and para?

Just like the English word ‘for’, the Spanish words por and para also have other meanings.

They are synonyms, as por and para can also mean ‘on’, ‘through’, ‘to’, ‘by’ and ‘towards’, ‘per’ and ‘in exchange for’.

Why direct translations won’t always help with por vs para

If you’re thinking you can simply run a quick translation to help you know whether you should use por or para, think again!

Unfortunately, it can take a lot more practice than you might expect because your translator will often translate both por and para as ‘for’ in English.

As we’ve already established, there are so many other meanings of por and para, which is another reason you’ll really need to avoid direct translations.

To become well-versed in all of these meanings, you’ll need to see each word being used in various contexts. Nothing beats reading and/or listening to usage examples to really immerse yourself in the language, and it can make knowing the difference between por and para much simpler.

Por vs para: a quick hint

Though it’s not the definitive way to tell the difference, here’s a quick tip you can use to identify when to use por and when to use para.

It’s a hint that your Spanish teacher will tell you to use, and it can really help. Ready?

Por is used to indicate the cause or the motive of something, while para indicates the effect of an action — also known as finalidad in Spanish. We’ll include a quick example to help you understand this hint a little better, right here.

1) Marta ha comprado un coche por su madre

2) Marta ha comprado un coche para su madre

What’s the difference between these two sentences? Any ideas?

Well, in the first example, Marta has bought a car because of her mother. This is indicated by the word por, which is generally used to show the cause of an action. In this sense, por sort of means ‘because of’.

However, in the second example, Marta has bought a car for her mother. In this sense, para means ‘for’.

We know, as we said, it’s tricky stuff! But many more examples are on their way.

Por: a list of usage examples

If you’re still struggling to understand which contexts require the word por we’ve listed a few different contexts and use cases for each one here. So, keep reading!

Using por to mean ‘through’ or ‘via’

If you want to refer to location, traveling or moving around, we typically use the word por in Spanish. So, it’s common to hear people use the word por when they’re going ‘through’ a location or ‘via’ a place to reach their destination.

For example, if you want to say ‘We go through the city every day’, you would use the word por.

Vamos por la ciudad cada día.

Here are a few more examples of por being used to indicate travel or location.

¡Ha entrado por la ventana! ¡Qué susto!

He's entered through the window! What a scare!

Voy por esta calle — es la ruta mas directa.

I go via this street -- it's the most direct route.

¡Si pasas por las montañas en Galicia, veras vistas espectaculares!

If you go through the mountains in Galicia, you will see spectacular sights!

In other cases related to location and movement, you might use the word por when you want to say ‘around’.

For example, if you want to say ‘around here, there are a lot of trees’, you would use por.

Por aquí, hay muchos arboles.

This rule also applies if you want to use the word ‘via’ in other contexts. For instance, if you wanted to describe a situation in which you received a message ‘via’ Facebook, you would use por.

He recibido un mensaje por Facebook. Me mandó un video.

I've received a message via Facebook. He sent me a video.

Ya hablé con mi abuelo por teléfono. Está enfermo.

I already spoke to my grandfather on the phone. He's unwell.

Using por to mean ‘in place of’ or ‘on behalf of’

We’ve mentioned that por can be used to indicate the cause of something, in which case por means ‘because of’. In a similar way, you can also use por when you want to say ‘in place of’ or ‘on behalf of’. Take a look at the following example.

No soy el representante de la empresa — no hablo por los jefes.

I'm not the representative of the company -- I don't speak for the bosses.

In this case, the word por means ‘on behalf of’. It suggests that the speaker doesn’t speak on the bosses’ behalf.

Here are a few other examples of the word por being used in this context.

Su profesora está enferma hoy, entonces trabajo por ella. La sustituyo temporalmente.

Your teacher is sick today, so I'm working instead of her. I replace her, temporarily.

He arreglado el ordenador por ti.

I fixed the computer on your behalf.

La cuidaba por su madre.

I looked after her on her mother's behalf.

Using por to refer to a time during the day

Another use of por is to refer to a length of time during the day. In cases like these, the word por means ‘during’ and it’s commonly used to describe an action that someone does at a particular time.

Here’s a quick example.

A mí me gusta hacer ejercicio por las tardes.

I like to exercise during the evenings.

In this case, the word por refers to the time during which the speaker likes to exercise — (during the evenings).

Let’s look at a few more examples of por in this context.

Me levanté muchas veces por la noche.

I woke up several times during the night.

Por la noche, las estrellas brillan.

During the night, the stars shine.

Siempre hago la compra por la mañana, a las diez.

I always do the shopping during the morning, at ten o'clock.

Por can also be used to refer to how long an action lasts. In this sense, it takes on a similar meaning to the word ‘during’, but refers to the duration of the action. Here’s an example to clarify this meaning.

He trabajado para esta empresa por siete meses.

I've worked for this company for seven months.

Now, in this example, the word por is used to refer to the duration of time the speaker has worked for the company. It means ‘for’, or ‘throughout’ or ‘during the course of’. Note that the sentence also uses the word para. But don’t worry if you didn’t understand it, we’ve got plenty of examples to help you understand the uses of para further down.

Using por to refer to prices

What if you go into a Spanish retailer and you’re looking for the latest rebajas or sales? Well, you’ll need to understand the word por in these contexts to get the best deals! In English might hear the owner of the storer say ‘it’s two for one’. But how would you say that in Spanish?

Well, normally you’d hear the phrase por somewhere in the sentence. Take this sentence, for example.

Tenemos una oferta. Son dos por el precio de uno.

We have an offer. They're two for the price of one.

Here, the word por means for. It sort of translates to ‘the equivalent of’ in English and is used in the same context as its English counterpart.

It’s the same if you want to exchange an item at a retailer or supermarket in Spain too — you’d use the word por. Here are a couple of examples.

Me gustaría cambiar esta chaqueta por otra.

I would like to exchange this jacket for another.

Compré la cama por doscientos euros.

I bought the bed for two hundred euros.

Para: a list of usage examples

As promised, we’re now going to take a look at a few contexts that will make it easier for you to understand the word para. We’ll also dive into a few usage examples to help you.

Using para when referring to the recipient of an object

The first usage of the word para we’ll feature is to describe the recipient of something. This one’s quite simple because, in this context, para means ‘for’ — just like in English. Take a look at this example.

Este movil es para ti. ¡Feliz cumpleaños!

This mobile is for you. Happy birthday!

What you might notice about this sentence, if you’re studying at an intermediate level, is that instead of tu, the Spanish word ti is used. The difference between these two Spanish words is that whereas tu is a possessive adjective, and refers to ownership of an item or object, ti, is a prepositional pronoun that always follows a preposition.

But let’s get back to the usage examples of para in this context. Here is one more for you.

Trabajo para una empresa de Inglaterra.

I work for an English company.

In this case, note the difference between using por and para. There’s a key difference between our earlier example which used the word por (trabajo por ella). To make a comparison, in the first example the word por translates as ‘instead of’, whereas in this example, para just means ‘for’.

Using para when talking about travel

If you’re just about to go on holiday, you’ll require the word para to communicate where you’re travelling to. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Mañana, saldremos para Escocia. Vamos a visitar muchos sitios.

Tomorrow, we will leave for Scotland. We're going to visit many places.

Here, the word para is used to talk about the destination to which the family is travelling to. It simply means ‘for’ in this context, which is similar to the English translation we’ve provided above.

In a similar way, the word para is used when referring to the transport that’s leaving for a particular place. Take this example, for instance:

El autobus salió para el capital.

The bus left for the capital.

Bear in mind that we use para and not por to indicate destination. The distinction between using these two words is important, but subtle — it’s the difference between saying ‘travelling to’ a location or travelling ‘through’ a destination.

Using para to indicate the end effect of something

We’ve mentioned earlier that para indicates the effect of an action. In a similar sense, para can be used to indicate or to refer to the end effect of an action. Here are a couple of examples of this.

Lucho para que vivas una vida feliz.

I fight so that you live a happy life.

Como mucha fruta para estar en forma.

I eat a lot of fruit to stay in shape.

Estudio inglés para poder viajar a Londres en el futuro.

I study English so I might be able to travel to London in the future.

In each of these examples, the effect of the action follows the word para, which in these contexts roughly translates as ‘to’, or ‘in order to’.

Using para to give your opinion on something

One final context in which para is used is to give your opinion on something. You’ll use the word para in the sentence leading up to your opinion, or to indicate that you’re about to state what you think.

Here are a couple of examples.

Para mi, yo creo que viajar es un lujo.

For me, I think travelling is a luxury.

Para vosotros, la cuidad es mejor que el campo, ¿verdad?

For all of you, the city is better than the countryside, right?

Para su marido, esta casa es un poco pequeño. Quiere una mas grande.

For your husband, this house is a bit small. He wants a bigger one.

See how the word para acts as an introduction to someone’s opinion? It can be used for any subject/person and is the ideal way to suggest that they’re just about to state what’s on their mind.

Putting por and para into practice

There we have it! It’s now up to you to keep studying por and para to gain more confidence when using them.

One final hint — though we’re not telling you to throw all of these rules out of the window, strictly memorizing all these rules doesn’t always work for everyone. That’s why we should mention that putting por and para into practice is best achieved by hearing how native Spanish speakers use them in different contexts. Immersing yourself in the language can help with this.

There are some excellent Spanish courses and apps that cover por and para in greater detail.

You might also try listening to podcasts and watching Spanish YouTube videos suitable for your level to get the hang of using por and para. You’ll get so many more examples this way, which will enhance your knowledge.

Sometimes, just hearing a phrase that contains the word por or para various times can help.

The more you hear these words being used, and the better the Spanish resources you use, the better.


Got any other tips on how to master ‘por’ and ‘para’?

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek
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