Thursday, August 16, 2012


Por and para are hard words to use correctly in Spanish. I think that using one in place of the other is one of the mistakes I make most frequently. Usually people understand when I make this mistake and sometimes they even correct me, like if I say “gracias para la ayuda (thanks for the help)” they’ll let me know the correct way to say it is “gracias por la ayuda”. Both words can mean “for” “to” and several other English words. So, is there any general, easy to learn rule for when to use which word? Not really, but there is a way of thinking about these words that can make it a little easier to choose the correct word!

“Para” can be thought of as an arrow pointing towards space, time, or a goal.“Por” can be thought of as the arrow moving through or alongside space, time, or a goal.


If you say “vamos para el parque” you are saying “we are going to the park”, you can picture an arrow pointing towards the park. If you inserted “por” in this sentence, instead of “para”, it would mean we are going through the park “vamos por el parque”. This time you could imagine the arrow going through or around the park. “Por” can also mean your mode of travel, such as “vamos por carro” (we are going by car). If you said “vamos para el carro” it would mean “we are going to the car”. “Para” is also used for the final destination or recipient of an object. “tengo un regalo para ti” means “I have a gift for you”.


Using “para” in regards to time usually refers to deadlines or target dates. We can imagine an arrow pointing towards the date/time. “Tiene que prepararlo para el viernes” means “you need to prepare it by friday”. “Por” in regards to time can be thought of as during, or the arrow going through the time. “Trabajaban en ello por 4 días” could be thought of as “they worked on it for 4 days”. “Por” in regards to time is very similar to “durante” (during). “Trabajo por la tarde” would actually carry the same meaning as “trabajo durante la tarde” or “I work during the afternoon”.

This analogy does not work with all of the uses of these prepositions. “Por” can be used for referring to exchange “I’ll give you this apple for that orange” is “Le doy esta manzana por esa naranja”. “Por” is the “per” in “percent” and also used in multiplication 2 x2 is said “dos por dos”. Division is said “cuatro dividido por 2” (4 /2). “Para” is used when expressing a purpose. “ para ir a la playa necesita bloqueador” (for going to the beach you need sunblock).

In asking questions it can be difficult to know when to use para qué or por qué. If you want to know someone’s goal for being in a certain place you would say “para qué está aquí”. The answer could be “estoy aquí para visitar a un amigo” (I’m here to visit a friend). If you saw someone you knew in a hospital that was dressed in normal clothes and did not look like a patient you could ask them this. “Por qué” seeks the cause, so you may ask a sick person in a hospital “por qué está aquí”, which would be asking why the person is there as in what injury/illness is the cause.

These are just some of the uses of “por” and “para”. If anyone else has different ways of thinking about these concepts please feel free to share them.

ejemplos de “por” y “para”

gracias por el regalo (thanks for the gift)

le doy esta manzana por esa naranja (I’ll give you this apple for that orange)

tiene que tenerlo para el jueves (he has to have it by Thursday)

la comida es para ti (the food is for you)

gracias por la bebida (thanks for the drink)

How do you think about "por" and "para"?


  1. Hi Scott, nice work!

    I usually tell people there are 4 uses of "para" and a bunch of uses of "por," so if you learn the 4 kinds of "para" then everything else is "por."

  2. Thanks JP! Often time I know which one is right and realize it with a "doh" moment after having used the wrong one!