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Spanish Grammar


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 are subtle.

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.

Por Para
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 examples.
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.

Info about studying Spanish language:

  • Learn Spanish in Spain: Young and dynamic agency born with the aim of connecting schools and students from all over the world. Find here more information about Spanish language schools and Spanish language courses in Spain.

Info about studying in Spain:

  • Guide to Study in Spain: Find universities and colleges in Spain. If offers also pratical information for students that are planning to study in Spain.