In Spanish what is the difference between por and para?
I don’t think there is an easy way for native English speakers to remember when to use por and when to use para.
In my experience, it’s something that gets much easier with time and lots of practice and exposure to Spanish.
At the beginning, you’ll probably have to study their various uses:
I learned it thus:
Final destination: Para
All concrete things that have to do with the end of a transaction.
Whatever you pass ‘through’ to get there: Por.
All less concrete things that have to do with how the transaction happens.
My personal favorite way of distinguishing is thus:
vamos para casa = we´re going to the house
vamos por casa = we´re going (somewhere) by way of the house
Causes may seem confusing, as though you could use either, but:
One is something we´re moving away from, the other is something we´re moving toward (destination).
The only ones you really have to memorize are time and place.
You don´t need a preposition to do duration.
If you´re more of a visual learner, I did a video on this here:
I find it thoroughly unhelpful to translate por and para to English prepositions.
Just above, para is both to and for, while por is because, per, for, around, and via or on.
It´s better to learn it conceptually, and will only be of use if you´re actually trying to learn to speak the language fluently rather than translate word by word.
In addition to the other answers from Jordi and Angie, I want to point out:
I used to get confused about ‘por’ and 'para' all the time when I was learning Spanish.
When you start learning prepositions in Spanish, at the beginning, they all seem easy.
Prepositions such as a, desde,contra seem easier since they only have one meaning each and they are not context dependent.
On the other hand, por and para do have same meaning; for, but they need some context.
Let's consider por first.
The loose translation for this preposition is for.
But usually por is attached with movements or modes of transport or duration.
For example : Trabajo por 8 horas.
Here, por is used to indicate the duration.
Now, consider para.
Para has a different approach but the basic meaning of this preposition is same: for, just used in different context.
For example: Estoy comprando esto para mi madre.
So, you are doing something ‘for’ someone.
You use this preposition when you do something for someone or when you want to talk about the end points or destinations, in general.
The difference between these two prepositions is very subtle but once you do more practice and read more Spanish texts, it becomes easier to use por or para according to the context.
Por is a preposition that can mean for, through, within, and similar things.
Para is a preposition that evolved in Spanish from the combination of por + a > pora > para.
“A” means to.
So if you combine the meanings you get through to, for to and so forth.
Para always sort of has a goal or movement in the direction of something.
It can mean in order to, for in the sense that something is going to someone or something, etc.
Many people create long lists of when to use each and those can be helpful when trying to understand the words, but you can’t really be fluent if you have to stop and think through a list every time you hear or want to use one of these propositions.
So you really need to get used to what they sounds like and the contexts in which they are used by hearing lots of examples.
In other words, you have to practice them.
You have to learn them instinctively so you sort of “just know” which one is the right one.
Por/para “for” represent a problem for English speakers learning Spanish.
Spanish makes a distinction in meaning that English “for” does not (same with Spanish’s two verbs for “to be,” ser/estar).
The sources and evolution of words can often give clues to meaning.
Both English “for” and Spanish por/para trace back to the same Proto-Indo-European root *per- which probably meant something like “in front of.
” Note that the PIE root was a concrete preposition, placing something in space relative to something else.
The English word and Spanish words evolved separately (English via the Germanic Languages and the Spanish words via Latin).
When words evolve they tend to keep the same general range of meaning but meanings shift and specialize.
In Proto-Germanic *fur meant something like “before, in.
” That’s still a very concrete preposition of spatial (or temporal) placement as in the PIE root.
By the time of Old English, for still had very spatial meanings “before, in sight of, in the presence of, etc.
” but had added other senses that were more abstract such as “on account of, for the sake of, etc.
Through the Latin route, we get a bifurcation in form and meaning.
Latin pro meant “for, instead of, according to, in front of, etc.
” A word like “project” traces back to roots that mean “forth+throw” / “throw forth” which makes perfect sense even today in uses like “speak up—project your voice.
In contrast, Latin per meant “per, by, through, for, with, by means of, etc.
” So we see that in both pro and per in Latin there has been, just as evolved in English, an expansion of meaning from pure spatial (or temporal) relationship to other meanings.
Spanish’s por evidently emerged from Latin pro and per.
Spanish para, on the other hand, evolved from an older term pora (a combo of por and a which came from Latin pro ad).
That change from Spanish pora to para was probably influenced by an archaic preposition par.
So we have different evolutionary routes for “for” and por/para, with all three tracing back to PIE with original PIE meaning of spatial relationship (the core sense of “preposition”) and all three expanding their meaning to include other things.
Whereas English subsumed a range of meanings under “for,” Spanish had two words to split up the range of meanings.
Since there were two words, they had different senses—even synonyms are not exact equals! Or you could analyze it the other way: since there were different meanings that Spanish captured, it evolved two words.
In teaching introductory Spanish, I’ve found it helpful to draw specific contrasts to show some of the differences in the two words.
Native Spanish speakers are most welcome to comment or correct.
In order to versus on behalf of … more or less!
Cause versus effect … sort of!
Going versus destination
Durations and deadlines
There are lots of helpful books and online resources.
The conceptual difference is actually not very complex…
To make an analogy with declensions, por is closer to ablative and para should fit into dative.
Te compramos el libro por tu cumpleaños
We bought you the book for your birthday
— You birthday is the cause of the action
Circula por la derecha
Circulate on the right
— ‘The right’ is the means of the action, it is how the action is carried out
Se hace para garantizar resultados
It is done to guarantee results
—Guaranteeing results is the aim of the action
El dinero es para ti
The money is for you
— You are receiver of the action, in this case the action of giving money
When the preposition connects origin or way of the action, it is por.
When the preposition connects the end of the action, it is para.
Before you can choose between por and para you need to know what aisle of the Spanish supermarket you're on.
These are the only five confusing aisles, the ones that contain both por and para:
If you're not in any of these five aisles (or if you are, but para doesn't fit), use por.
I go deep into the usage of por and para in this post:
¿Cuál es la diferencia entre las palabras “por” y “para”? No es muy dificíl.