Spanish prepositions – “Por” and “Para”

Spanish Lessons Proyecto San Telmo Grammar Tips

“Por” and “para” have a variety of meanings, and they are often confused because they can each be translated as “for.”

Gracias por la ayuda.
Thanks for the help.

Esta silla es para Romina.
This chair is for Romina.

 Advice: Learn the rules for how por and para are used and memorize model sentences.

 “Por” has many uses, and so it is the more problematic of the two.

Rule: to express gratitude or apology
Model: Gracias por la información.
(Thanks for the information.)

Rule: for multiplication and division
Model: Cinco por cinco son veinticinco.
(Five times five equals twenty-five.)

Rule: for velocity, frequency and proportion
Model: Lorena va al club cuatro veces por mes.
(Lorena goes to the club four times per month.)

Rule: meaning “through,” “along,” “by” or “in the area of”
Model: Andan por el parque.
(They walk through the park.)

Rule: when talking about exchange, including sales
Model: Ellos me dieron 5000 pesos por el auto.
(Thay gave me 5000 pesos for the car.)

Rule: to mean “on behalf of,” or “in favor of,”
Model: Juan no votó por nadie.
(Juan didn’t vote for anyone.)

Rule: to express a length of time
Model: Me quedé en Buenos Aires por 5 meses.
(I stayed in Buenos Aires for 5 months.)

Rule: to express an undetermined, or general time, meaning “during”
Model: Se puede ver las estrellas por la noche.
(One can see the stars during the night.)

Rule: for means of communication or transportation
Model: Prefiero viajar por avión.
       (I prefer to travel by plane.
       Me gusta hablar por teléfono.
      (I like to speak by phone.)

Rule: in cases of mistaken identity, or meaning “to be seen as”
Model: Me tienen por ladrón.
      (They take me for thief.)

Rule: to show the reason for an errand (with ir, venir, pasar, mandar, volver, and preguntar)
Model: Pasará por ti a las once.
(He’ll come by for you at eleven o’clock.)

Rule: when followed by an infinitive, to express an action that remains to be completed, use por + infinitive
Model: El piso está por terminarse.
(Play has yet to be finished.)

Rule: to express cause or reason
Model: Mis amigos se fueron por falta de trabajo.
       (My friends left for lack of work.)

Rule: “estar por” means to be in the mood, or inclined to do something
Model: Están por tomar mate.
(They are in the mood for drinking mate.)

Rule: in passive constructions
Model: Rayuela fue escrito por Julio Cortázar.
(Rayuela was written by Julio Cortázar.)

 “Por” also appears in many idiomatic expressions:

por primera vez
for the first time

por separado
separately

por supuesto
of course

por suerte
fortunately

por todas partes
everywhere

por todos lados
on all sides

por último
finally

por adelantado
in advance

por ahora
for now

por allí
around there; that way

por amor de Dios
for the love of God

por aquí
around here; this way

por casualidad
by chance

por ciento
percent

por cierto
certainly

por completo
completely

por dentro
inside

por desgracia
unfortunately

por ejemplo
for example

por eso
therefore

por favor
please

por fin
finally

por lo general
generally

por lo visto
apparently

por medio de
by means of

por lo menos
at least

por lo tanto
consequently

por mi parte
as for me

por ningún lado
nowhere

por otra parte
on the other hand

palabra por palabra
word for word

“Para” — in contrast, has relatively fewer uses.

Rule: to indicate destination
Model: Susana salió para Mar del Plata.
(Susana left for Mar del Plata.)

Rule: to show the use or purpose of a thing
Model: Esta copa es para vino.
(This glass is for wine.)

Rule: to mean “in order to” or “for the purpose of”
Model: Para hacer un asado, primero consiga carne argentina.
      (To make an asado, first get argentinian meat.)

Rule: to indicate a recipient
Model: Este libro es para vos.
(This book is for you.)

Rule: to express a deadline or specific time
Model: Necesito el dinero para el lunes.
(I need the monet by Monday.)

Rule: to express a contrast from what is expected
Model: Para una mujer maneja muy bien.
(For a woman, she drives very well.)

Rule: “estar para” to express an action that will soon be completed
Model: El bus está para salir.
(The bus is about to leave.)

 It is quite important to learn to use these two prepositions correctly, because if you inadvertently substitute one for the other, you might end up saying something altogether different from what you had intended.

Study the two examples:

Mariana hizo una torta para Ana.
Mariana made a cake for Ana.
(Mariana made it to give to Ana)

Mariana hizo una torta por Ana.
Mariana made a cake for Ana.
(Mariana made it because Ana could not)

 “Por” and “para” can also be used in questions. “¿Por qué?” means “Why?” (for what reason) while “¿Para qué?” means “Why?” (for what purpose).

¿Por qué estudias francés?
For what reason do you study French?

Possible answer:

Porque es un requisito.
Because it’s required.

¿Para qué estudias francés?
For what purpose do you study French?

Possible answer:

Para ser profesor de francés.
In order to become a French teacher.

posted by Proyecto San Telmo Spanish Lessons

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