This is one of the things that Spanish learners struggle with the most. What is the difference between para and por and when on earth are you supposed to use them?
If you struggle with the difference between para and por then don’t worry, you’re not alone.
If you’re a native English speaker, then you might wonder why do the Spanish need two words for ‘for.’ Why does para even exist?
When we can say:
- I need a present for Carl
- I was on the train for ten hours
- I’m doing this for you
- I’ll swap you a banana for an orange
But it’s not that simple, because por and para can be used when we would use other words besides for, for example:
I need this report by Sunday,
in Spanish we would use the word para. So the words por and para are a lot more versatile than you might think. And once you get used to them, and the rules, they become a lot easier to use, and you find yourself seeing the difference when you use ‘for’ in English. You just need to get started, learn the rules and get some practise.
Por is used more often than para
When you’re first learning por and para, and find yourself getting tripped up, it’s useful to know that por comes up a lot more often than para. So if you see all of the rules when to use each of them and it seems like a lot, then a good way to look at it is to learn the rules for para first and use por in all other situations until you’ve got the hang of the rules.
You’re not going to be right every time but it’ll make things easier for you in the short term.
Now let’s get down to it and have a look when to use por and when to use para.
We we mentioned earlier, para is used much less frequently than por, so learning the rules shouldn’t take too long and shouldn’t be too difficult.
We use para when we talking about deadlines. If something needs to be done by a certain time, then you’re going to use para.
This homework is for Friday
Esta tarea es para el viernes
We use para to talk about the destination of a person or a thing.
This plane is for Barcelona
Este avion es para Barcelona
Purpose or use of a thing
We use para to show what the purpose or use of an object is.
The comb is for combing hair
El peine es para peinar el cabello
To give an opinion that’s counter to what we expected
If we have an opinion about someone or something that goes against what you would have expected it to be, then we use para.
For a man, he’s very sensitive
Para un hombre, es muy sensible
Recipient of a gift or action
If someone is the recipient of a gift or an action we use para. So if you do something for someone, or you give them something, even it’s a pen, we use para.
The present is for you
El regalo es para ti
I cleaned the house for you
Limpié la casa para ti
Motivation for doing something
When we are doing something for an end goal we use para.
I am studying to become a doctor
Estoy estudiando para ser médico
Be careful here, because when we’re doing something due to something else or as a result of something else we use por and it’s easy to get these two muddled up. We’ll explain the differences below.
Phrases that use para
- para siempre – forever
- para variar – just for a change
- para entonces – by that time
- para otra vez – for another time
Por has many more uses than para, so once you’ve learned the uses of para, you’re usually safe to assume that you can use por. But, just to be on the safe side, let’s have a look at some of the instances we use por so you can understand the rules better.
Duration of time
We use por when we are talking about how long something takes. So with por, we’re focusing on duration rather than a focused point in time.
He estado aquí por cinco horas
I have been here for five hours
Mode of travel/transport
The way we travel, or send information is expressed with por.
I’m going through the window
Voy por la ventana
I will send it by email
Lo enviaré por correo electrónico.
Doing something on behalf of someone
If you do something on behalf of someone else you use por.
¿Puedes firmar esto por mí?
Can you sign this for me?
In this instance, you would be signing on their behalf.
In exchange for something
This can be monetary or literally one thing for another. You will often find this being used in shops when shop keepers give you prices for items, or if you want to swap or exchange something.
I will give you an orange for your apple
Te daré una manzana por tu naranja
To express gratitude
This rule is quite simple, if we want to express gratitude for something we use por.
Thank you for coming
Gracias por venir
If something causes us to do something (or not be able to do something), then we use cause.
I couldn’t sleep for the noise
No pude dormir por el ruido
Here the noise is the cause that has meant we can’t sleep.
This can be a bit difficult to remember sometimes and is easy to get muddled up with one of the para rules (for motivation). If you’re still unsure after the example, then continue reading for our muddled up section which explains some of the differences between para and por in more detail.
Phrases that use por:
- por ejemplo – for example
- por favor – please
- por ahora – for now
- por lo menos – at least
- por suerte – fortunately
- por supuesto – of course
- por ciento – percent
- por cierto – certainly
- por eso – therefore
- por fin – finally
- por si acaso – just incase
- por último – finally
- por todas partes – everywhere
Where it’s easy to get muddled up
Duration vs. deadline
With time we can use both por and para, but they have different meanings. Remember that when we’re doing something for a duration of time we use por but when we’re doing something to a deadline, or a fixed point in time we use para.
- He estado aquí por diez horas
- La presentación es para el miércoles
Cause vs. purpose
This is probably the hardest one for people to wrap their heads around as these two are quite similar. And it comes down to understanding the difference between cause and effect. If something has cause the outcome, then we use por.
- I can’t sleep for the noise
- No puedo dormir por el ruido
The noise has caused you not to be able to sleep
When you’re doing something to have an effect or for something to happen as a result you use para.
- I’m doing this to stop you
- Estoy haciendo esto para detenerte
You’re doing a thing, with the outcome being to stop the person.
With these two, it’s a good idea if you practise them. When written down like this, it might seem obvious but there’s a lot of time you use this rule and you’ll need to think to yourself, is this the cause or the motivation? It can be a very small distinction but with practise it becomes much easier.
Doing something on someone’s behalf vs. recipient of an action
This is another situation where the uses of para and por can seem quite similar. Both involve doing something or giving something to someone but one is on someone’s behalf and one is as a recipient.
Both of these sentences say I am cleaning this shirt for you.
Estoy limpiando esta camisa para ti
The first one indicates that you are doing it for someone. Maybe it’s a nice gesture. You’re going to clean the shirt for the other person.
Estoy limpiando esta camisa por ti
When you use por, you’re implying that you’re doing it on their behalf. It’s not a gesture that you’re doing for them. Perhaps it’s their job to clean the shirts but in this instance they’re unable to, so you’re cleaning the shirt on their behalf.
Usually it would be clearer and the examples wouldn’t be so similar, however it’s important to understand the difference. Are you doing something on someone’s behalf or are they the recipient of an action.
How to practise por and para
In order to practise para and por, as well as using them in real life, you should try some online quizzes for immediate feedback. Here are some of our favourites:
Not only do Spanishdict explain the rules really clearly, but they also have a quiz that lets you practise using para and por just to reinforce those rules.
Also has a handy quiz that you can use to practise the differences between para and por.
We hope you’ve found our article on the differences between para and por useful. If you have any other Spanish grammar points that keep tripping you up, then let us know and we’ll write an article on that too.
If you think we’ve missed off any of the uses of para or por, then please let us know in the comments below. We always want to help give you the most accurate, up to date information and your feedback is always welcome.
Or if you have any handy tips how you managed to master the differences between para and por then let us know. Sometimes study tips are just as useful as sitting down and learning the rules.