Let’s take a look at what both por and para mean and how we can become more accurate when using them in Spanish

Sometimes, learning Spanish is a piece of cake (está chupado), and on other occasions there are bits of grammar which can seem like a real headache. Por and para are two tiny words which can, at first, seem very confusing, but once you get the hang of how to use them they are extremely useful. I know when I first starting studying Spanish I used to get into a bit of a mess with which one to use, but to be fair, native speakers are always sympathetic with language learners and will attempt to understand through the context.

Por or para? The eternal question

Both por and para can be translated as for in lots of situations, but they can mean many other things as well. They are used in a lot of expressions, verb structures and as prepositions with particular times as well as in a myriad of other structures. When deciding which one to use, it’s important to think about the meaning of the whole phrase you want to say and not translate word for word. When learning any language, individual translations often don’t help you construct real phrases. The best way to help you see the difference is through examples. Take a look at the tables below to get a better feel for these important words.

Uses of ‘para’

Spanish English Reason
Es para ti It’s for you Destination (e.g. of a gift)
Estoy ahorrando para comprar un coche I’m saving to buy a car Purpose (e.g. in order to)
Juan va para la casa de su amiga Juan is going to his friend’s house Intention/Destination (e.g. of movement)
Tengo que estar en la fiesta sorpresa para las 6 de la tarde I have to be at the surprise party by 6pm With time phrases
La silla es para sentarse, no para poner los pies The chair is for sitting on, not for putting your feet on An object’s use or purpose
Estamos para salir We’re are about to go out “Estar para” means “to be about to”

Uses of ‘por’

Spanish English Reason
Hablo con mi madre por teléfono todos los días I speak with my mum by phone every day How you communicate with someone
El metro no pasa por mi barrio The metro doesn’t go through/via my neighbourhood Moving “through” somewhere
Olvidé hacerlo por no apuntar la tarea en mi lista I forgot to do it because I didn’t write the task on my list The cause or reason for an action
Me gusta tomar un vermut por la tarde I like to have a vermouth in/during the afternoon General time meaning “during”
Te doy 10 euros por el libro I’ll give you 10 euros for the book An exchange
Comer por comer Eat for the sake of it Translates as “for the sake of”

The tables above give you some clear examples of how to use these important prepositions. When learning Spanish, you really should try to speak as much as possible and practise using them through trial and error. Nobody ever got better at anything without making a few (or lots of!) mistakes along the way. It’s vitally important that you get into the habit of writing down new examples of language as you see and hear them so that you can incorporate phrases into your own speech and writing. Both por and para appear all the time in Spanish and so you’ll have plenty of chances to use them and hear them used.
Little by little (poco a poco) you’ll become more fluent in Spanish by just trying your best and giving it a go.

To learn more about por and para, as well as all other aspects of Spanish language and culture, come join us here at Hablamos – you won’t regret it!