Por vs. para... which one is it?!
Knowing when to use por and when to use para in Spanish can be so, so tricky.
In this article, I have laid out some simple rules to follow that you can use and practice with to instinctively know when to use por and when to use para in Spanish.
Pretty soon you'll be an expert.
Por vs. Para | Key Details
If you’ve been going nuts trying to determine how to use por and para correctly, you are not alone.
The thing is, por and para have a variety of meanings that go far beyond the use of the word “for" in English.
They can also be used to mean by, on, through, because of, in exchange for, and in order to.
You will quickly learn that it is so much more than just a translation. It’s all about the context.
If you think about it, in English, you also use the word for to express different ideas.
Gracias por tu ayuda. => Thanks for your help.
Estas flores son para María. => These flowers are for María.
I bought a sandwich for $5.99
I bought a sandwich for Saturday.
I bought a sandwich for fun.
I bought a sandwich for lunch.
I bought a Sandwich for Steve.
Prepositions in any language can be tricky and often follow no logic other than “it is the way it is.”
In many cases, you may be able to use either por or para in a sentence, but you’d be conveying two different things.
Pablo está haciendo la tarea para Marta.
Pablo está haciendo la tarea por Marta.
Did you recognize the difference? I know what you are thinking, they look like the exact same thing!
In the first sentence (para), Pablo is doing the homework as a favor to Marta, to give it to her later.
In the second sentence (por), he is doing the homework on behalf of Marta.
It’s a subtle difference, but crucial to help you understand when to use por and when to use para in Spanish.
Good news! There is an old trick or two to help you to learn the difference between them!
Por vs. Para: Learning the Essential Rules
Por holds the record as far as uses go. It is the annoying neighbor who won’t stop talking.
Para is a bit more laid back, but it is here to stay.
I'm going to give you some simple rules to make mastering para vs. por quite simple.
First, let's start with por.
When To Use Por | 14 Simple Rules
1) To express cause or reason
El supermercado está cerrado por renovaciones. => The supermarket is closed due to renovations.
Se suspendió el evento por la lluvia.
The event was suspended due to the rain.
2) For means of communication or transportation
Me gusta hablar por teléfono con mi hermana. => I like to speak on the phone with my sister.Susana envió la carta por correo. => Susana sent the letter by mail.
3) To express gratitude or apology
Gracias por tu ayuda. => Thanks for your help.
Espero que me perdones por lo que he hecho. => I hope you forgive me for what I’ve done.
4) To express duration, a length of time
La policía habló con el sospechoso por tres horas. => The police spoke to the suspect for three hours.
Estuve cocinando por dos horas. => I’ve been cooking for two hours.
5) When talking about transactions, exchanges, and trades
Obtuve doscientos dólares por la computadora. => I got two hundred dollars for the computer.
Clara vendió su bicicleta por ciento veinte dólares. => Clara sold her bike for a hundred and twenty dollars.
Él cambió el auto por el piano.
He exchanged the car for the piano.
6) For multiplication and division
Cinco por cuatro es veinte. => Five times four equals twenty.
Si divides cien por veinte obtienes cinco. => If you divide one hundred by twenty you get five.
7) For velocity, frequency, and proportion
Gabriel va al gimnasio cuatro veces por semana. => Gabriel goes to the gym four times a week.
Clara maneja a 40 kilómetros por hora. => Clara drives 25 miles per hour.
El 80 por ciento de la población votó en las elecciones. => 80 percent of the population voted in the election.
The Many Different Meanings of Por
As you can imagine there are lots of different meanings of por.
Here are some of the essential ones.
8) Meaning “during”
Me gusta correr por la mañana. => I like to run during the morning.
La pescadería está abierta por la tarde. => The fish store is open during the afternoon.
9) Meaning “through,” “along,” “by,” or “in the area of”
Andamos por el centro. => We’re walking around downtown.
Chris está caminando por el bosque. => Chris is walking through the woods.
10) Meaning “on behalf of” or “in favor of”
No voté por ese candidato. => I didn’t vote in favor of that candidate.
No hice la tarea por ella. => I didn’t do the homework on her behalf.
11) Meaning “to be seen as”
Mi jefa me tiene por impuntual. => My boss doesn’t think I’m ever on time.
Lo tienen por trabajador, pero en realidad es un holgazán. => They take him for hard-working, but in reality he is lazy.
12) To show the reason for an errand (with ir, venir, pasar, mandar, volver, and preguntar)
Diego me estuvo preguntando por ti. => Diego has been asking me about you.
Volvemos por ti a las nueve. => We’ll come back for you at nine.
13) In passive voice sentences
La película fue dirigida por Guillermo del Toro. => The movie was directed by Guillermo del Toro.
El libro fue escrito por J.K. Rowling. => The book was written by J. K. Rowling.
14) Meaning “about to” (por + infinitive)
Estoy por ir a dormir. => I’m about to go to sleep.
Estamos por terminar el partido. => We’re about to finish the match.
Idiomatic Expressions Using Por
Those were quite a few different meanings and uses of the word “por” wasn’t it!
The easiest way to know when to use por and when to use para is to just start using them (correctly).
Learn some of these idiomatic expressions using por below and you will start to have a better understanding of it's usefulness.
Once you've mastered these idiomatic expressions with por, it will make using them in regular conversations a bit easier.
Por Idiomatic Expressions
Por adelantado - in advance
Por ahí - around there, maybe
Por ahora - for now
Por allí - around there, that way
Por amor de Dios - for the love of God
Por aquel entonces - at that time
Por aquí - around here, this way
Por casualidad - by chance
Por ciento - percent
Por cierto - certainly
Por completo - completely
Por dentro - inside
Por desgracia - unfortunately
Por dónde - where, where to
Por más difícil que sea - as hard as it may be
Por encima de - over
Por ende - consequently
Por ejemplo - for example
Por eso - therefore, that’s why
Por favor - please
Por fin - finally
Por fuera - outside
Por lo general - generally
Por lo visto - apparently
Por medio de - by means of
Por las buenas o por las malas - whether you like it or not
Por las dudas - just in case
Por lo menos - at least
Por lo pronto - for the time being
Por lo que a mí me toca - as far as I’m concerned
Por lo tanto - consequently
Por lo visto - apparently
Por mi parte - as for me
Por ningún lado - nowhere
Por otra parte - on the other hand
Por primera vez - for the first time
¿Por qué? - why?
Por separado - separately
Por si acaso - just in case
Por supuesto - of course
Por suerte - fortunately
Por todas partes - everywhere
Por todos lados - on all sides
Por último - finally
De una vez por todas - once and for all
Día por día - day by day
En un dos por tres - right away, quickly
Palabra por palabra - word for word
When To Use Para in Spanish | 6 Easy Rules
Ready to get started with para?
Para is much simpler than por.
The uses are considerably less so it’s easier to pick out when to use it.
I list out six simple ways to use para below.
1) To indicate destination
Catalina sale para Colombia esta noche. => Catalina is leaving for Colombia tonight.
El tren sale para Roma a las 20:00 hs. => The train leaves for Rome at 8:00 pm.
2) To indicate the recipient of something
La medalla de oro es para Sonia. => The gold medal is for Sonia.
Este regalo es para tu mamá. => This gift is for your mom.
3) To express a deadline or specific date and time
La tarea es para el próximo viernes. => The homework is for next Friday.
Cambiaron la hora de la entrevista para mañana a las 11 de la mañana. => They changed the interview time for tomorrow at 11 am.
4) To talk about goals or purposes
Para + infinitive is fairly popular in these cases.
El dinero es para gastarlo. => Money is for spending.
Estudiaré mucho para aprobar el examen. => I will study a lot in order to pass the exam.
5) To reflect the opposite of what is expected
Para un primerizo, lo hizo muy bien. => For a first timer, he did it very well.
Para una persona mayor, lo aprendió bastante rápido. => For an older person, he/she learned it pretty fast.
6) To mean “in order to” or “for the purpose of”
Para soportar el frío hay que ponerse una buena campera. => To stand the cold you need to put on a good jacket.
Para armar la carpa, primero hay que elegir una superficie plana. => To pitch the tent, first you need to pick a leveled surface.
Idiomatic Expressions Using Para
Just like with por, it's important to learn some of the idiomatic expressions with para.
Once you've grasped a few of these expressions, begin using them in your next Spanish conversations.
Slowly, the rules above will start to make more and more sense and begin to come naturally to you.
Para Idiomatic Expressions
Para abajo - down, downward
Para adelante - forward
Para dónde - where to
Para entonces - by that time
Para esa época - by that time
Para otra vez - for another occasion
Para que - so that, in order that
¿Para qué? - What for? For what purpose?
Para siempre - forever
Para ti - for you
Para variar - just for a change
Ser tal para cual - to be two of a kindEl horno no está para bollos - now is not a good time, now is not an opportune moment
Por and Para In Questions
As you may have noticed on the two idiomatic expressions lists, por and para can also be used in questions.
While por qué focuses on the reason behind the question, para qué focuses on the purpose.
¿Por qué? => Why? (For what reason?)¿Para qué? => What for? For what reason? For what purpose?
Let’s look at one example.
A: ¿Por qué te levantas tan temprano? B: Porque empiezo a trabajar a las siete.
A: Why do you get up so early? B: Because I start working at 7 am.
Now let’s try the same question using para qué.
A: ¿Para qué te levantas tan temprano? B: Para evitar el tráfico matutino cuando voy al trabajo.
A: For what reason do you get up so early? B: In order to avoid the morning traffic on my way to work.
Notice the difference?
Let’s try one more.
A: ¿Por qué estudias español? B: Porque lo necesito para mi trabajo.
A: Why do you study Spanish? B: Because I need it for my job.
A: ¿Para qué estudias español? B: Para mejorar mis chances laborales.
A: For what reason do you study Spanish? B: In order to better my job opportunities.
Now it’s time to come up with examples on your own.
It’s a great exercise you can complete with your Spanish tutor!
Summing Up Por vs. Para
I have put together a quick table of contents that you can use to go back to reinforce what you just learned.
Feel free to click on a link below to take you to that particular section in the article.
The secret to learning when and how to use por vs. para correctly is to practice one use at a time, utilizing the model sentences in this article and the other ones you come up with in a Spanish notebook.
Though it is advantageous to know the different uses for each one, you will be better served to practice directly with examples.
Use por and para over and over again until it sticks and makes sense in your head without thinking.
Only THEN move on to the next use.
If needed you can also make flashcards with por and para sentences to help you practice between the different use cases.
You will start to notice when something doesn’t sound right and begin to instinctively know when you should be using one over the other.
After all, practice makes perfect!
10 thoughts on “Por vs. Para | 20 Clever Solutions to Know When To Use Them”
Very good and thorough information, the best explanation I have seen. Thank you!
Thanks so much for reading Gary! I’m glad you found the article useful. Por vs. para is a constant struggle for me.
Andrea and nate , you and your husband are rocking the world of Spanish learning, you have helped so much improve my Spanish, I love all your videos and podcasts . Keep up the amazing work you do everyday.
Ati, thanks so much for the kind words and we are so glad you are learning from all our material. We love you too. 🙂
Yeah! You guys really are something!!
Thanks so much Ann for following along. 🙂
Muchas gracias por toda ayuda!
Excellente artículo sobre un tema complicado
Gracias por leerlo Stefan!
Great article… very well presented and clear. It is the best and most thorough description that I have found and easy to read.
mil gracias Andrea y Nate!
Thanks you Robert for being with us and helping us along the way!