Understanding the differences between por qué, porque, por que and porqué is often a challenge – even for those who speak and write Spanish at a native level.
Telling them apart is very difficult when you start to learn Spanish.
What does porque mean?
Here are the different meanings or types of ‘porque’ in Spanish (if you need a quick summary):
- ¿Por qué? means “why?” in Spanish.
- Porque means “because” or “so that” in Spanish.
- Por que means “for which” in Spanish.
- Porqué is a noun meaning “reason” in Spanish.
Keep reading for a more detailed explanation of each with examples.
Why is distinguishing between por qué, porque, por que and porqué so tricky? Well, it’s mainly because these words, to a non-native speaker, are all practically Spanish homófonas (homophones). So, the main challenge is knowing how to use these words orthographically (when writing) and understanding which contexts are required for each one.
It’s not just Spanish learners that have trouble with homophones.
If you’re a native English speaker, for instance, you’ll probably know someone who finds it difficult to tell the difference between there, their and they’re…
Some good news? With a few usage examples, you’ll soon know which contexts require por qué, which need porque, the appropriate time to use por que and the right context for porqué.
Let’s address a couple of important things before we dive into our usage examples, though.
Table Of Contents:
- Using ¿por qué? to ask direct and reported questions
- Using porque to answer questions, link clauses and for the subjunctive tense
- Porque when responding to a question
- Porque to join clauses together
- Porque with the subjunctive tense
- Using por que to identify something
- Using por que to identify a cause, reason or justification
- Using por que when que follows a phrasal verb
- Using porqué as a noun in Spanish
What are homófonas and what do they have to do with porque?
First things first – what exactly are homófonas?
Homófonas are words that sound the same, or are pronounced very similarly, but are orthographically (spelled) differently. For example, although por qué, porque, por que and porqué might sound similar to each other, they are spelt differently and have different accent marks.
These qualities make them homófonas.
There are many other examples of Spanish homófonas. Some of the most common include – cual and cuál, quien and quién, echo and hecho…
But what’s even more important is to recognize that homófonas have different meanings and are used in different contexts.
This is why knowing the difference in meaning is particularly important, as when you’re writing in Spanish your meaning will be much clearer if you can use por qué, porque, por que and porqué correctly.
Why are are Spanish tildes important in homófonas?
Key to knowing the difference between por qué, porque, por que and porqué, is the little mark above the letter ‘e’ in porqué and por qué.
That little mark is called a tilde, and it is essential when writing in Spanish and understanding Spanish pronunciation.
The tilde is like a signal that points to where the stress or emphasis is located when pronouncing Spanish words. For instance, in the word porqué you should emphasize the second syllable of the word to pronounce it correctly.
For some Spanish homófonas like cual and cuál, there is only one syllable.
In cases like these, the accent mark is critical when writing. And for cual vs cuál the tilde indicates whether you mean ‘which’ or ‘which one?’
The spelling makes all the difference when using these four words. It can directly alter your intended meaning. You might get away with it in some cases, but if you’re studying for an exam, you’ll definitely want to ensure you get it right!
So, with that in mind, let’s explore the four different words in context with some usage examples.
Using ¿por qué? to ask direct and reported questions
Often used alongside the word porque, por qué is a commonly used Spanish phrase.
Por qué translates to ‘why?’ in English.
If someone asks you what your favourite food is, or your what your hobbies are, and you explain that you like taco truck, they might use the word ¿por qué? to follow.
Take note that por qué consists of two individual words and features the accent mark we’ve talked about above the letter e.
This orthographic mark distinguishes the word por qué from the phrase por que.
You might use the word por qué to ask why someone likes something.
Here are a few examples of the word por qué being used in contexts like that:
¿Por qué te gusta estudiar tanto?
¿Por qué te gusta la comida China?
¿Por qué te gusta viajar a América?
A él le gustan los insectos. Pero, ¿por qué?
Note that because the word por qué is always used to ask a question, you should alwaysuse a pair of signos de interrogación (or question marks) when writing.
In other contexts, the word por qué can also be used in a question that’s being relayed to someone else – which is also known as a reported question. For example:
A él le preguntó por qué se fue tan temprano.
No sabía por qué estaba tan cruel.
Using porque to answer questions, link clauses and for the subjunctive tense
As mentioned, in Spanish we normally use the word porque alongside por qué.
They’re an inseparable pair and always go together in a sentence.
Why? Because the word porque means ‘because’ in English.
Bear in mind that unlike por qué, the word porque doesn’t have a tilde above the e and is always written as one word.
There are three main uses of porque: 1) it’s used to answer a question, 2) to join clauses together and 3) also features in phrases that use the subjunctive tense.
Porque when responding to a question
When someone asks their friend ¿por qué? or why they did something, you’ll typically notice that the response starts with the word porque… For instance, ¿Por qué estudiaste la informatica? Porque a mí me gusta los ordenadores (why did you study Infomation Technology? Because I like computers).
Here are a few more usage examples to help you understand how porque is used:
Ella se casó a los 16 años porque lo amaba.
¿Por qué te ríes tanto? ¡Porque eres tan gracioso!
¿Por qué te gusta la naturaleza? Porque la naturaleza es preciosa.
No tengo ni idea por qué la gente es tan mala. Es porque no tiene valores ni principios.
Porque to join clauses together
But the use of the word porque also goes a bit beyond responding to questions.
This word can also be used to join clauses together, particularly when the first clause is explained by the second one.
For example, if you didn’t attend your friend’s birthday party because you were working at the time, you might use the word porque when you’re explaining yourself – Lo siento, no podia venir, porque tenía mucho trabajo.
So, just like in English, you can use porque as a conjunction. But if you’re still slightly unsure exactly how it’s used in this context, here are a few more conjunction examples of the word porque in action:
No quería decepcionarte porque eres una amiga querida, pero la comida era fatal.
No he terminado la tarea porque tuve algunos problemas.
No quisieron hablar por teléfono porque tenían mucha ansiedad.
Porque with the subjunctive tense
The word porque has an additional use, too. When it’s used in a sentence that features a subjunctive verb, you’ll notice that this word takes on a similar meaning to ‘para que’, which translates to ‘so that’ in English
This is frequently studied at an upper intermediate or advanced level and requires an in-depth knowledge of the subjunctive tense. But here are a couple of examples that will give you a better indication of how porque is used with the subjunctive:
Porque puedas venir a la playa, tienes que llevar la toalla y las gafas de sol.
Porque estés listo antes de salir, tienes que prepárate ahora.
Using por que to identify something
This challenging expression in Spanish is difficult because of how it’s used.
It’s also used less frequently by Spanish natives, but understanding it will really round off your knowledge of the four porques.
So, por que in English means ‘for which’ in the majority of cases, but it can also mean ‘so that’ in some contexts as well. It’s typically translated as ‘for which’ when you’re using ‘por’ as a preposition and ‘que’ as a relative pronoun.
But it can also be used when the word que follows a phrasal verb in Spanish as well.
Let’s take a look at each of these contexts individually.
Using por que to identify a cause, reason or justification
If you want to give a reason or explanation for something, you can use the word por que ‘for which’ to justify or identify a cause.
Here are some usage examples to clarify this first way of using por que:
La razón por que no habló fue la trauma que tuvo cuando era niño.
El motivo por que estaba tan triste fue la muerte de su padre.
Notice how ‘por’ is a preposition in these examples, and how the ‘que’ that follows is a relative pronoun.
Using por que when que follows a phrasal verb
In some cases, you’ll find that the word que can follow a phrasal verb that also uses por. A couple of examples of these types of verbs are preocuparse por, or optar por meaning ‘to worry about’ and ‘to decide’ respectively.
The following usages will help to clarify por que in this context:
Opté por que no comieras con nosotros.
Me preocupo por que mi hija viva una buena vida.
If you’re studying at an advanced level, take note that these examples of por que are used alongside subjunctive verbs. That’s because two subjects are mentioned in each example and they are both examples of deseos (wishes), or situaciónes hypoteticas (hypothetical situations).
Using porqué as a noun in Spanish
The last of the four porques is the word porqué. Note that porqué uses a tilde and is spelt as one word, which helps you distinguish it from the word porque. This word is used as a masculine noun in Spanish and it translates to ‘the reason’ in English. Also, bear in mind that porqué also features the article ‘el’ before it, which will help you remember its meaning.
As with por que it’s not used very frequently, but it is relatively easy to understand as it’s used similarly to its English translation and in similar contexts too.
Here are a couple of examples of porqué in different contexts:
No me preguntes el porqué de mi decisión. Es final. Y punto.
No entiendo el porqué de su tristeza. Tiene una vida buena. A lo mejor tiene una enfermedad.
Keep studying: practice is the key to understanding the 4 porques
Now that you’ve got a good grounding in the 4 porques, what’s next?
You keep studying, of course! 😊
Practice makes perfect, which is why you’ll need to look at many more examples like these to achieve fluency and become completely confident when using them.
A few strategies that’ll also help you fully understand these words include:
Focusing on simple usage examples for each porque and avoiding complex sentences with too many clauses at first
Starting your journey towards understanding the porques with the less challenging ones and working your way up. Keep in mind that we’ve included some advanced level grammar here, so study at your own pace and dive into the subjunctive tense only when you feel ready
Try finding as many Spanish resources as you can to support your learning
Practice with friends and family as much as possible and try to use the porques when speaking
Listen to dialogue audio that’s appropriate for your level to get a good understanding of the contexts in which the porques are used
Although it might seem challenging at first, no te preocupes! You’ll soon master the four porques.
Just be sure to follow these tips, consult as many usage examples as you can and be consistent with your learning.
Got any other top tips for getting to grips with the four porques?
Share them below!