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When to use por and when to use para in Spanish

Don’t worry, you aren’t the only student struggling with when to use por and when to use para in Spanish!

But today you will learn how to use them for once and all!

There’s a common rule saying that we use por to express cause and para to talk about goals and who the receiver of an action is, but it doesn’t cover all of the different uses.

While both prepositions can be translated as for in English, they aren’t interchangeable.

That’s why you need to learn these specific contexts of use and communicative intentions in order to use them properly.

Ready to learn when to use por and when to use para in Spanish?

Let’s go!

How to use por in Spanish

To indicate the path

Por is used to indicate the transit through a space on the way to somewhere else, or the movement inside a place in particular.

—Disculpe, ¿sabe dónde está el banco?
—Sí, camina por esta calle tres cuadras y dobla a la derecha.

Los domingos me gusta caminar por el parque antes de desayunar.

Means

To express that something happens by means of a particular system, device, person, etc.

Ayer hablamos por Skype.

Me enteré por Daniela. (= I heard about it via Daniela)

Approximate location

To express an approximate location, accurate, but not completely.

Encontré a este perrito por el hospital. (= near the hospital)

El negocio está por la calle principal. (= somewhere in the main street)

Approximate date

It’s the same as above, but talking about a moment or time.

Nos conocimos por el año 2008.

Las clases empezaron por mayo más o menos.

Length

Por is used to express the amount of time that something lasts.

Caminamos por tres horas, ¡estoy muerto! (= I’m exhausted!)

Practico francés todos los días por 30 minutos.

Cause

To express the cause or reason why something happens or should happen.

¡Muchas gracias por el regalo!

No salimos de casa por el calor.

¡Te sientes mal por estar en casa todo el día!

Me siento así por ti. (= I feel like this because of you)

Receiver of a feeling or attitude

We use por to indicate who or what arouses a certain feeling or attitude in us, such as love, respect, attraction, hate, indiference, etc.

¡Siento tanto amor por mi sobrino!

No me gusta su música, pero tengo mucho respeto por su carrera.

Price

To indicate the price of something.

Compré esa computadora por US$120.

Exchange

When something/somebody replaces something/somebody.

Ve a la reunión por mí, no quiero ir. (= you go instead of me)

Te cambio tu casa por la mía. (= your house for mine)

Passive voice

To express who does an action in the passive voice (the direct object becomes the subject of the sentence).

El cuento fue escrito por Borges.

That’s how to use por in Spanish. Let’s see what happens with para now!

a boy receiving a gift - learn when to use por and para in Spanish
Este regalo es para ti por ser un buen hijo. Foto de cottonbro en Pexels

How to use para in Spanish

Destination

Para is used to indicate where somebody or something is going.

En enero voy para Madrid.

Ya estoy yendo para el cine.

Deadline

To express the final date in which something will or must happen.

Tengo que terminar el artículo para el sábado.

Purpose

We use para to express purpose or goal. Someone does an action hoping to achieve something in particular after a process.

Quiero viajar a Estados Unidos para estudiar inglés.

Te traje este libro para que lo leas.

Por can express purpose, too?

Things get interesting!

In the beginning of this article I mentioned that a common rule is that por is used to express the reason why something happens.

However, por can actually be used to express purpose, but with a subtle difference in meaning.

With por we don’t conceive the purpose as something that we want to achieve, but rather something that prompts that action.

Vamos a luchar por la libertad. (= freedom prompts the fight, it’s not only something we want to achieve)

Hice todo lo posible por ganar la final. (= wanting to win the final made me do everything possible)

Receiver

Para indicates who is the receiver of an object or the benefit of an action.

Compré estas flores para mi mamá.

Es una película para niños.

To qualify a statement

We use para to qualify a statement in order to make it less strong, less important or less general.

Para ser millonario, vive modestamente. (= Although he’s a millionaire, he lives humbly)

La tecnología puede ser difícil para la gente mayor. (= Technology can be difficult for the elderly, not difficult by itself)

Laura es muy buena para cocinar. (= Laura is good in relation to her skills to cook)

Opinion

To express an opinion. We can include this one under the category above because the goal also is to make a statement less general, strong, important, etc.

Para Marcelo, este es un buen gobierno. (= I’m not saying this is a good government; that’s just what Marcelo thinks)

Para mí, la mejor liga de fútbol del mundo es la inglesa.

And that’s how to use para in Spanish!

Do you want to learn more Spanish?

I hope you have enjoyed this article about when to use por and when to use para!

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Thank you very much and until next time,

Kevin.

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