There are some things in Spanish that can feel especially cumbersome for English speakers, and one of those is understanding the difference between para and por.
The thing is that both of these words translate to the “for” in English, and a result, it can sometimes feel tricky to conceptualize the subtle differences in usage between the two words. The part that often makes things feel confusing is that these two words aren’t just used to say “for”, but tend to sub in for a bunch of prepositions depending on the context.
So the question is, how do you know which one to use, and when?
Let’s start by breaking down some of the main differences between the two words first.
How to Use the Word “Por”
In general, por is used to talk about things like movement, duration, means of travel and communication, exchanges and motivations.
Here are some of the main contexts where you will use the word por when speaking in Spanish.
- Talking about duration. If you are talking about the amount of time that something lasts, por is the word to use.
- Referring to motivation. Use por when talking about a reason for doing or wanting something.
- Referencing an exchange. Want to ask a friend to trade sunglasses? Por is the word to go for in these types of situations.
- Discussing the way you or others communicate or travel. Por is the go-to word when discussing how you get around or the method you use to communicate with somebody. For example, to say “I contacted you by email” you would say “Te contacté por correo electrónico.”
By thinking of the word por as meaning “due to” instead of simply translating it to “for”, it will make the subtle nuances a lot easier to understand!
How to Use the Word “Para”
The main thing to keep in mind when thinking about para is that this is generally the go-to word when referring to any type of physical destination, goal, recipients or deadlines.
Let’s take a closer look at how para works.
- Talking about who something is for. Want to specify who will be the lucky recipient of a gift? You would say “Este regalo es para Tom”, which translates to “This gift is for Tom” in English.
- Referring to a goal or a purpose. Para is the go to word for talking about why something is done or why you want to do something, just to name a few instances.
- Speaking about deadlines. Need something by a certain time or date? Para is the word to use in these types of situations.
- Discussing a physical destination. Para is generally the go-to word for any situation where you might be talking about a physical destination or a place, and should always be used if this place is the endpoint of some sort of trip or journey.
Try thinking of para as translating specifically to “in order to” and it should feel easier to understand how and when to use it!
The main thing to keep in mind is that even if you don’t really understand the difference between para and por, it’s really not a game-changer. It is common for people to make grammatical errors when they are learning, so the point is, don’t sweat the small stuff. Too many people get hung up in the technicalities and lose confidence. Eventually, they end up assuming that they are just not good at learning languages.
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