Taking the Confusion Out of Por and Para
How does one say "for" in Spanish?
Simple question, huh?
Not really. In fact, understanding the answer to that
seemingly simple question is one of the more difficult
problems facing many Spanish students.
The problem is that two Spanish prepositions, por and
para, frequently are used for the English word "for."
(Actually, there are number of other words that also
can fit the bill, but we won't concern ourselves with
them now because they don't seem to be the cause of
so much confusion.) The differences between them sometimes
If it's any consolation, prepositions can be as difficult
for people learning English. Why do we sometimes say
something is under control, and sometimes say something
is in control? Why are we in the house but at home?
The rules sometimes escape logic.
In Spanish, The key to understanding which preposition
to use is to think of the meaning you want to convey.
If I use a phrase such as "three for a dollar"
in English, the "for" has a different meaning
than it does in "this book is for you." In
the first case, "for" indicates an exchange
or a rate, while in the second case it indicates an
intention or direction. Thus the Spanish translation
of the two phrases are different, "tres por un
dólar" and "este libro es para ti."
The following chart shows some of the major uses of
these two prepositions.
Expressing movement along, through, around, by or about:
Anduve por las calles de la ciudad. I walked through
the streets of the city. When used in this sense, por
refers to a general area, not a specific place. More
Denoting a time or duration when something occurs. Sometimes
is synonymous with durante. Viajamos por tres semanas.
We're traveling for three weeks. More examples.
Expressing the cause (not the purpose) of an action:
Me caí por la nieve. I fell down because of the
snow. Por estudiar mucho, acabé mis tareas. By
studying much, I finished my homework. More examples.
Meaning per: Dos por ciento. Two percent. Dos persons
por coche. Two persons in each car.
Meaning supporting or in favor of: Trabajamos por derechos
humanos. We work for human rights. Another example.
Introducing the agent of an action after a passive
verb: Fue escrito por Bob Woodward. It was written by
Bob Woodward. Fue construido por my padre. It was built
by my father.
Indicating means of transportation: Viajaré
por avión. I will travel by plane.
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