How to Differentiate “Por” and “Para”:

It’s not just you; these two words have most likely given pause to anyone who has ever tried learning Spanish. They sound very similar, for one, but the real headache is that they both tend to translate to for in English. Worse yet, you’ve likely ran into sentences that are exactly the same—except for the fact that one has “por” and the other has “para”.

The trick to keeping these two words separate is to pay attention to the unique roles that each one can play in a sentence. Rather than translating from English to Spanish in your head, think about what ideas you’re trying to express. For example, you can skip a lot of confusion by simply remembering that “por” is used when you want to say that one person does something on behalf of another person.

In this article we’ll cover several such use-case scenarios for both “por” and “para”.


A Basic Rule of Thumb:

Although both words have several meanings, they boil down to this:

  • Por” expresses that something has been done for a reason. It expresses a cause, but can also refer to duration or the means through which something is done.
  • Para” expresses that something has been done in order to do or get something else. It concerns a purpose, final goal or destination.

As you can see, “para” is the more straightforward of the two, and “por” is more flexible. Either way, both can be used in many different situations. I recommend focusing on a few usages that feel natural to you, and then gradually learn the other ones over time.

When to Use "Por"

We use the preposition “por” in these cases:

  • To explain the reason we did something.
    ¡Lo he hecho por ti! I did it for you!
    He llegado tarde por el tráfico. I was late because of the traffic.
  • To talk about abstract places.
    Tiene que estar por ahí. – It might be somewhere over there.
    Nos vemos por el centro. See you downtown.
  • To talk about time.
    Por la mañana. – In the morning.
    Vino a casa por Navidad. He came home for Christmas.
  • To talk about the agent of a passive sentence.
    Fue seguida por un hombre. – She was being followed by a man.
    La reforma será llevada a cabo por el experto. – The construction will be conducted by the expert.
  • To talk about the means through which something is done.
    Hemos hablado por teléfono. We talked on the phone.
    Ha salido por la tele. It was on TV.
  • To talk about speed.
    Conducía a 30km por hora. – He was driving at 30km per hour.
    ¡No conduzcas muy rápido! Esta carretera es de 20km por hora. – Don’t drive too fast! This road (the speed limit) is 20km per hour.
  • To talk about prices.
    ¡Lo compré por 99 céntimos! – I got it for 99 cents
    !Se compró un portátil por 200€. She bought a computer for 200€.
  • To talk about how something will be distributed.
    Os voy a dar un lápiz por persona. – I am going to give a pencil to each of you.
    No hay suficientes mantas, necesitamos tres por casa. – There aren’t enough blankets, we need three per house.
  • To multiply any quantity.
    Los beneficios se multiplicaron por cuatro durante este semestre. – The incomes were multiplied by four during this semester.
  • To talk about how frequently something is done.
    Hago deporte tres veces por semana. – I play sports three times a week.
    Tómate las pastillas dos veces por mes. – Take your vitamins twice a month.
  • To talk about an exchange.
    Te cambio tu chaqueta por la mía. – I’ll swap your jacket for mine.
    Me gustaría cambiar este producto por este otro. – I would like to exchange this product for this other one.


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When to Use "Para":

We use the preposition “para” in these cases:

  • To explain what we want to get, or the means to an end.
    He estudiado durante tres años para presentarme a este examen. – I studied for three years to take this exam.
    He salido pronto para ir al cine. – I left early to go to the cinema.
  • To talk about the reason we use or do something.
    Utilizo mi coche para trabajar. – I use my car to work.
    ¡Vine para darte una sorpresa! – I came here to surprise you!
  • To talk about deadlines.
    Necesito el trabajo hecho para mañana. – I need this job done for tomorrow.
    La tarea es para el martes que viene. – The assignment is for next Tuesday.
  • To talk about a certain place or express your destination.
    Acabo de salir para tu casa. – I just left to your house.
    ¡Voy para allá! – I’m on my way!
  • To express an opinion.
    Pasar tiempo con mis seres queridos es lo más importante para mí. – Spending time with my loved ones is the most important thing to me.
    No es importante para él. – It isn’t important for him.
  • To talk about the recipient of something.
    El regalo es para ti. – The present is for you.
    El sobre es para ella. – The envelope is for her.

Bonus: Phrasal Verbs and Expressions:

There are also a number of fixed expressions in which “por” and “para” are used. Rather than worrying about what each individual word means, focus on the meaning of the expression itself. Sprinkling these in here and there will make your speech sound more natural.

Phrasal verbs and expressions with "Por":

  • Por ahora (Up to now):
    Por ahora no tenemos noticias. – Up to now, we don’t have any news.
  • Por ejemplo (For example):
    Deberías coger, por ejemplo, esa chaqueta. – You should get that jacket, for example.
  • Por fin (Finally):
    ¡Por fin hemos llegado! – We are finally here!
  • Por supuesto (Of course):
    ¡Por supuesto que me acuerdo de tu cumpleaños! – Of course I remember your birthday!
  • Por lo menos (At least):
    Por lo menos has llegado a tiempo – At least you got here on time
  • Por si acaso (Just in case):
    Deberías coger una mascarilla extra por si acaso. – You should get an extra mask, just in case.
  • Por lo tanto (Therefore):
    No recibiste ninguna invitación. Por lo tanto, no te queremos aquí. You didn’t get any invitation. Therefore, we don’t want you here.
  • Por poco (Almost, narrowly):
    ¡Por poco me caigo! – I almost fell!
  • Por lo visto (Apparently):
    Por lo visto, hay otro sospechoso escondido dentro. – Apparently, there is another subject hiding inside.
  • Por suerte (Luckily):
    Por suerte, la tormenta no causó daños en casa. – Luckily, the storm didn’t cause any damage at home.
  • Por casualidad (By chance):
    Te he visto por causalidad. – I saw you by chance.
  • Por último (Lastly):
    Por último, me gustaría hablar contigo. – Lastly, I would like to talk with you.
  • Por cuenta propia (On someone’s own):
    Estoy seguro de que puedes apañártelas por cuenta propia. – I’m sure you can figure that out on your own.
  • Ir a por todas (To go for it):
    Tienes que ser valiente e ir a por todas. – You need to be brave and go for it.
  • Por las buenas o por las malas (By hook or by crook):
    No te lo voy a repetir más veces: ven aquí por las buenas o por las malas. – I’m not going to say it again: you need to come here by hook or by crook.
  • Preguntar por (To ask about [something]):
    Ven a la oficina y pregunta por mí. – Come to the office and ask about me.
  • Interesarse por (To be interested in/by [something]):
    Se interesó tanto por el tema que quería leer más. – She was so interested inthis subject that she wanted to read more.
  • Ir por (To be on something):
    Voy por la primera ronda. – I’m on the first round.
  • Acabar por / terminar por (To end up):
    Acabó por irse porque estaba incómodo aquí. – He ended up leaving because he was uncomfortable here.
  • Caracterizarse por (To be characterized by):
    Estos meses se caracterizan por las altas temperaturas. – These months are characterized by high temperatures.
  • Dar las gracias por (To thank for):
    Me gustaría darte las gracias por venir a mi fiesta hoy. – I would like to thank you for coming to my party today.
  • Felicitar (a alguien) por (To congratulate for):
    No quiero felicitarte por algo que no has hecho tú. – I don’t want to congratulate you for something you didn’t do.
  • Estar/faltar/quedar + por + verb = something is not finished yet.
    Falta por acabar este ejercicio. – This exercise needs to be done.
    Las tareas de la casa están por hacer. – The chores need to be done.

Phrasal Verbs and Expressions With "Para":

  • No es para tanto (Not a big deal):
    No hace falta que pases el día llorando, no es para tanto. – You don’t need to be crying all day long, it’s not a big deal.
  • No estoy para bromas (It’s not something to joke about; it’s serious):
    Más te vale aparecer con una buena excusa, no estoy para bromas. – You better come up with a good excuse, I’m serious.
  • Para colmo (On top of that, to make things worse):
    Ya estaba enfadada con él pero, para colmo, ¡no me habló! – I was already mad at him but, to make things worse, he didn’t speak to me!
  • Trabajar para (To work for):
    Trabajo para una gran empresa en la capital. – I work for a big company in the capital.
  • Servir para (To be used to/for):
    Esta herramienta sirve para medir líquidos. – This tool is used to measure liquids.
  • Clasificarse para (To qualify for):
    Quiero sacar las mejores notas para clasificarme para el campeonato nacional. – I want to get the best grades to qualify for the national competition.

In summary

“Por” and “para” are two different Spanish prepositions used to talk about causes and purposes. Though they look similar at first glance, they’re actually used in very different situations. We’ve covered the major ones, so get out there and give it a shot!

Founder of BlaBlaLang

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