When to Use Por versus Para in Spanish: Rules, Chart, and Quiz
When do you use para or por in Spanish? Let’s be honest. You’ve asked this question at least once in your Spanish-learner’s life!
Por and para are Spanish prepositions that are tricky to grasp quickly because they don’t exactly match with English equivalents.
In this blog post, I clarify the major differences between por and para, how to translate them, as well as some specific rules of usage.
In the end, challenge yourself with a quiz!
Why Por and Para Are Confusing
There are reasons why por and para seem confusing. First, they are both prepositions and they are followed by the same type of words. Second, there is some confusion around the translation since each word can mean various different English prepositions.
Let’s take a look:
Before we cover the differences between por and para in Spanish, let’s see what they have in common.
Both por and para can be followed by an infinitive, a noun or pronoun.
Estudio para viajar.
I study to travel.
Gracias por ayudar.
Thanks for helping.
Voy para España.
I’m going to Spain.
Estoy viajando por España.
I’m traveling through Spain.
Es para ti.
It’s for you.
Lo hice por ti.
I did it for you (because of you).
Confusion With English Translation
There’s definitely a lot of confusion in terms of translation. Most of the students who approach me for help in distinguishing por from para claim that both words mean “for.”
While that may be the case sometimes, it’s certainly not a rule.
In fact, in many cases, you’ll translate them with other words and expressions.
Seeing the sets of possible meanings for por and para is eye-opening and can help you understand the difference between them.
The exact translation depends obviously on the context. Look at these possibilities:
Por possible meanings:
- because of
- instead of
- due to
Por ti, puedo hacerlo.
For you, I can do it.
Por tus acciones tenemos que sufrir las consecuencias.
Because of your actions, we have to suffer the consequences.
La calle pasa por el bosque.
The street goes through the forest.
Este libro fue escrito por García Márquez.
This book was written by García Márquez.
Le puse el nombre de Juan por mi papá.
I named him Juan after my father.
Puedo correr 1 kilómetro por minuto.
I can run 1 kilómeter per minute.
Trabajaré por ti, ya puedes acostarte.
I’ll work instead of you, you can go to bed now.
¡Brindemos por nuestro amor!
Let’s toast to our love.
Llegué tardé por un accidente en la carretera.
I got late due to an accident on the highway.
Quiero viajar por el mundo.
I want to travel around the world.
(And that’s not all! I’m sure that a talented translator could come up with more.)
Para possible meanings:
- in order to
- according to
Compré un libro para ti.
I bought a book for you.
Necesito terminarlo para mañana.
I need to finish it by tomorrow.
Necesito que me digas tu opinión para mejorar mi trabajo.
I need you to give me your opinion in order to improve my work.
Estudio español para visitar a mis amigos en Buenos Aires.
I study Spanish to visit my friends in Buenos Aires.
Este año los científicos trabajaron para encontrar una solución al problema de la contaminación del agua.
This year, scientists worked towards a solution to the problem of water pollution.
Para mí, esto no tiene sentido.
According to me, this makes no sense.
In some cases, you could substitute the above translations of para with “for” but not in all of them.
I’m sure that by now you know that memorizing the translations is never enough and won’t get you very far if you don’t understand the deeper meaning behind por and para.
Major Difference Between Por and Para
When you start learning por and para rules, some shortcut explanations can come in handy to grasp the general idea. The simple solution will not always work but can help you get by at the beginning.
Later on, with more foundations, you can learn the necessary exceptions.
Para: Purpose, Destinations, and Intentions
The basic thing to understand is that para talks about things further in time, an event or situation that will happen after the first one. That’s why you’ll use it to talk about purpose, destinations, and intentions, among others. Hearing para makes you imagine the future, although it can be an immediate future.
Voy para tu casa.
I’m going to your house.
Estudio para trabajar.
I study to work.
Can you see how in both sentences the part after para is set to a future destination or time?
Por: Parallel in Time, Relates to Past, Introduces a Reason
Por, on the other hand, talks about something that is parallel in time to the first part or even relates to something from the past or introduces a reason.
Me gusta viajar por España.
I like traveling through Spain.
Y lo hice por eso.
That’s why I did it.
Can you see how por introduces a context for the event or explains the reason behind it?
The ultimate difference between the two is that para looks into the future, and por is like looking around or backward in time.
A More Detailed Explanation of Por and Para
Let’s explore the uses of por and para in more detail.
Por and Para Contrasting Uses Chart
Other Uses of Por
Apart from the above contrasting uses, there are some other common usages. They’re not necessarily contrasting but still specific to por.
Por is also used to talk about the way people communicate.
Te escribiré por correo.
I’ll write to you by email.
Mándamelo por WhatsApp.
Send it to me on WhatsApp.
2. Exchange and Substitution
Use por to talk about exchange, substitution, and trades.
Te cambio 10 dólares por pesos mexicanos.
I’ll trade you 10 dollars for Mexican pesos.
Cambia la harina de trigo por la harina de coco o almendra y te sentirás mejor.
Swap the wheat flour for coconut or almond one and you’ll feel better.
The preposition por helps us to determine the object of our feelings.
Siento celos por ella.
I’m jealous of her.
Su amor por él es indescriptible.
Her love for him is indescribable.
Other Uses of Para
There are also some other, specific rules on when to use para in Spanish that cannot be precisely contrasted with por.
You can use para to say what you think. It’s Spanish “according to” or “in my opinion”.
Para mí, el helado de coco consumido en la playa es el mejor manjar.
For me, coconut ice cream eaten on the beach is the best delicacy.
Para mis abuelos, soy la más bonita.
For my grandparents, I am the prettiest.
2. Standard /Expectation
Use para to show how something compares to an expectation or standard.
Para oler tan mal, sabe delicioso.
For such a bad smell, it tastes delicious.
Para ser una niña, salta muy alto.
For a girl, she jumps really high.
Over time, your usage of por and para will slowly become easier! The more you read, the more you practice, the more natural their different meanings will seem for you.
Por and para – Multiple Choice Quiz
Choose the correct option. Is it por or para?
1. ¿Todavía estás hablando _________ teléfono?
2. Esto lo ha mandado _________ su nieta.
3. No te preocupes más _________tus hijas, ya son grandecitas.
4. Toño se ha caído _________ escalera.
5. Este libro fue escrito _________ mi padre. (This book was written by my father)
6. Esto te pasa _________ meterte donde no te llaman.
7. Zapata luchó _________ la libertad de su país.
8. _________mí, esto no tiene sentido.
9. ¡Que hermoso! ¿es _________ mí?
10. Siento celos _________ su pelo bonito.
Congratulations! It’s a tricky topic and having mastered it should feel like an accomplishment.
As I said earlier, the more you practice, the better you become. The use of por and para becomes clearer as time goes by and your ear gets accustomed to new structures.
To keep you motivated, just imagine all the conversations you’ll be able to have while traveling to Spanish-speaking countries. And there are quite many of them, all around the globe.
If you want to go deeper into the topic, and learn some phrases with por and para, read other examples, and do more exercises, check out Spanish Exercises for Intermediate Students: ‘Por y Para’ Practice.
You can also sign up right now for a free class with one of our native, Spanish-speaking teachers from Guatemala and practice por and para in a 1-to-1, student-tailored environment.
Want more Spanish resources for beginners? Check these out!
- Master the Various Uses of ‘Ya’ in Spanish
- Master the Subjunctive in Spanish
- Suceder, Pasar, and Ocurrir: Spanish Verbs Meaning “to Happen”
- A Simple Guide to Spanish Sentence Structure and Order
- Learn to Use Voseo: Vos in Spanish
- How to Write and Pronounce Spanish Accent Marks
- Master the Spanish Alphabet: Letters, Sounds, and Songs for Everyone
- How to Use the Verb ‘Soler’ in Spanish