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I remember when I was learning English, one of the concepts that was so easy to master was the use of “for”. You only need one word to express so many things while in Spanish we need 2. So easy!
I’ve been teaching Spanish for quite a few years now, when students come to Pura Vida and start learning Spanish, one of the concepts that gives them a hard time is the use of “por” and “para”.
I know there are plenty of resources out there teaching this concept, but I’ll try to solve this question using our own experience with our students.
So let’s go for it…
Por vs Para, the eternal battle
Both words are prepositions, meaning they precede another word and are used to express a relation to another element in the clause.
Here are some examples in English:
- I bought these shoes for 10 dollars
- I bought this flowers for you
- For me, this makes no sense
Now let’s look at each sentence and try to recognize the meaning
- I bought these shoes for 10 dollars
- Yo compré estos zapatos por 10 dólares
What does “for” mean here? It has the meaning of an exchange.
I paid 10 dollars and received a pair of shoes
Let’s look at it from another angle: The reason I paid 10 dollars was the pair of shoes, that’s what made me hand over my money. The reason, the motive.
This is very important since it is crucial to understand the use of “Por”.
- “I bought these flowers for you”
- “Yo compré estas flores para tí”
This is a bit tricky, but what I personally meant in this sentence is that I am going to hand the flowers to another person, in other words, the flowers will move from point A to point B. From man’s hands to woman’s.
Therefore, we have to use “Para”
This is the most common use of these types of sentences, but of course it might be the case that you want to express that the reason you did something was because of something/someone else.
In such case, you have to use “por”
- Compré estas flores por tí
The reason I bought these flowers is you / You are the reason why I bought these flowers
In the last example, the meaning is that of a reason, hence we use “por”
So, to give more clarity. In these types of sentences, you can use “por” or “para” depending on what you mean.
I sing for you (I am singing so that you listen to the song, the song is for you) = Yo canto para tí
I sing for you (The reason I am singing is you, it doesn’t mean you are there to listen to it) = Yo canto por tí
Let’s move to the third example
For me, this makes no sense (in my opinion, this makes no sense)
Para mí, esto no tiene sentido
In this third and last example, the sentence expresses an opinion. Any time we want to express an opinion, we can do so by using “for” / “para”.
For me, this pizza is not good = Para mí, esta pizza no es buena
In your opinion, the film was good, for me it wasn’t = Para tí, la película fue buena, para mí no.
No further explanation for this third example, so now let’s move onto the specific usage of “Por” and “Para”
When to use Por
You know, when we want to emphasize the object of the action instead of the subject we use the passive voice. Like in “The actor was awarded by the academy”. The object is the actor and the academy is the subject, but it doesn’t really matter.
En English we use “by”. In spanish, this represents the cause/source/reason of something.
- The house was made by 2 people.
- La casa fue hecha por dos personas
Here, the 2 people are the cause of the house being made, they were responsable. That’s why we use por.
- Guillermo was well educated by his parents
- Guillermo fue bien educado por sus padres
Again, the source of education for Guillermo is his parents. They are the responsible ones, the root of it. So we have to use “por”
When it comes to expressing parts of the day, we use “por” as a preposition of time.
In the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening = por la mañana, por la tarde, por la noche.
The logic behind this? There is none in particular, “por” is used as a preposition of time when expressing parts of the day. As simple as that.
Another way to use “por” as a preposition of time is when we want to express the duration of something:
I was driving for 4 hours
Estuve conduciendo por 4 horas
- I studied for a whole week
- Estudié por una semana completa
Por is used as a preposition of time meaning “in” when we talk about parts of the day or “during” when we express the duration of a certain action.
It is pretty common to express proximity in Spanish, using the preposition “por”. Here is how you do it:
- “Where are you? – I am near/close/around the park”
- “En donde estás? – Estoy por el parque”
- Hey, I am near your house, do you want to meet?
- Oye, estoy por tu casa, quieres que nos veamos?
Any tipe of exchange is expressed with the preposition “por”.
- I exchanged this for that = cambié esto por aquello
- I bought 2 pizzas for the price of one = Compré 2 pizzas por el precio de una
- We have to split the bill, it is $20 per head = Tenemos que separar la cuenta, son $20 por cabeza (each person has to pay /exchange 20 USD)
Another use of this preposition is when we express that we are travelling through a place, don’t confuse this, for “para” can also be used but it means “towards”
- Viajo por Costa Rica
- I am travelling through Costa Rica
- Hago una excursion por la jungla
- I am doing an excursión through the jungle
To express gratitude
For some reason (por alguna razón), it feels so natural for a Spanish learner to say “Gracias para eso”. But the right way is to say this is “Gracias por eso”
- Thanks for the flowers (I am thanking you because of the flowers you gave me)
- Gracias por las flores
- Thanks for the food
- Gracias por la comida
Every single time you want to thank something or someone, use the preposition “por”.
In a nutshell
The preposition “Por” has 6 general and main meanings:
- Cause (reason,motive,source, etc)
Remember the examples in the first part of the post?
The main meaning of “para” is that of a destination (in any of its forms):
- I am travelling to London next week = Viajo para Londres la siguiente semana
- I am coming to your house now = Voy para tu casa ahora
As you can see, if the meaning is “to” or “towards”, that of a movement, then we use “para” in Spanish.
- These flowers are for you (you are the purpose of the flowers, “the final destination” for them)
- Estas flores son para ti
- I prepared breakfast for you (I did it so that you can eat it, you are the purpose)
- Preparé el desayuno para ti
- I am singing for you (you are there to listen, the song is directed at you)
- Estoy cantando para ti
In English, when we want to express purpose, we use “in order to” “to” “so that”. Good news! “para” can mean all these 3 things! I hope by now you started to like para.
So let’s try a few more examples
- I studied for 2 years so that I can go to university
- Estudié por 2 años para poder ir a la Universidad
Okay the last example I intentionally used both por and para so that you recognize the difference. The firs one is duration and the second one is purpose.
Let’s try another one
- “I bought eggs for breakfast”
Here in this sentence I mean that I am going to use the eggs for breakfast, that’s the end goal, the purpose,so…
- “Compré huevos para el desayuno”
Last example, be careful with the next one…
- I am heading to Costa Rica to learn Spanish in Pura Vida Spanish School
- Voy para Costa Rica para aprender Español en la escuela Pura Vida
This is because the above sentence implies movement and purpose. I am going TO costa Rica IN ORDER TO learn Spanish.
So now you got it, right?
This is super easy, for deadlines we are going to use “para”. End of the story.
- I need your homework for tomorrow (grumpy teacher tone)
- Necesito tu tarea para mañana
- The payment is due for next Monday.
- El pago se debe hacer para el Lunes.
Another easy one.
- For me, this house is beautiful = para mí, esta casa es Hermosa
- In my opinion, the movie was excellent = para mí, la película fue excelente.
- You think you are right, but for me, you are wrong = Tú piensas que tienes razón, pero para mí, estás mal.
As simple as that. Opinions = “para”
Quick trick to use “por” and “para” correctly
These 2 concepts are difficult for a reason, they can take up the form of: for, by, through, because of, during, to, towards, in order to, etc.
As you may have noticed, “por” is more complicated and has far more uses than “para”. When we want to translated “for” into the correct Spanish equivalent, more often than not we are going to use “por”.
So here is the trick. Learn the uses of “para” by heart. Remember they are only 4:
Once you master these. Assume that every time you translate “for” into a Spanish sentence and such sentence doesn’t fall under any of these 4 categories use “por”, if it does fall into these categories, then use para.
Of course this only applies for the translation of “for”. The rest of the meanings you will have to practice and practice to master the usage of “por” and “para”
So now it is time for you to practice a little bit. Check the mini test below and see how well you understand these 2 concepts.
Por and Para remain as 2 of the most confusing concepts in Spanish, but with practice you will eventually grap the meaning of each and will know exactly when and how to use them properly.
These are the main uses:
If you need further help to improve your Spanish, remember you can always come to our school in Costa Rica or if you prefer, you can take Costa Rica to the comfort of your house by signing up for our Skype lessons.
Keep practicing and see you in the next post.
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