One of the conundrums of Spanish grammar is por vs. para. When to use them and why one is used versus the other… The dilemma of one too many students learning Spanish. Rather than focus on the 50% chance of getting it wrong (versus the 50% chance of getting it right!), learn these simple rules.

Por is a circle
It sounds pretty wild, but por is really a circle. It is about the reasoning and the means.

  • Communication. Email, phone, snapchat, por has you covered. Lo llamé por teléfono – I called him on the phone. La contacté por correo electrónico – I contacted her via email.
  • Mode of travel. Your travels will involve por. Viajar por avión/coche/metro – To travel via plane/car/metro). In this case por is the equivalent of via and can be substituted by en.
  • Exchange. ¿Cuánto pagas por tu teléfono al mes? – How much do you pay for your cell phone every month? As a kid would say to another over lunch: Te cambio mi almuerzo por tu Transformer – I’ll give you my lunch for your Transformer.
  • Substitutions. When you do something in place of someone else. No puedo enseñar la clase mañana, ¿lo haces por mí?- I cannot teach class tomorrow, could you do it for me?
  • Duration. Mi familia ha vivido en Nueva York por más de cuatro décadas – My family has lived in New York for more than four decades.
  • Motivation, because of. When speaking of the reason why you do something, use por. Estudio español por mi novia – I study Spanish because of my girlfriend.
  • Through. El ladrón entró por la ventana – The thief came through the window.
  • Around. El restaurante está por esta calle – The restaurant is around this street.
  • Pass/go by. Voy a pasar por su casa – I’ll stop by his house. The house is either not the final destination or the speaker will not be spending much time there.
  • By. Cien años de soledad fue escrito por Gabriel García Márquez – One Hundred Years of Solitude was written by Gabriel García Márquez.

Examples of common por phrases

  • Por favor – please
  • Por ejemplo – for example
  • Por suerte – fortunately
  • Por supuesto – of course
  • Por supuesto que sí – of course yes
  • Por supuesto que no – of course not
  • Por eso – because of that
  • Por qué – why
  • Por cierto – by the way
  • Por ciento – percent
  • Por fin – finally

Para is an arrow
Para is for the end result. It is very specific and direct. In fact, there are only four main uses.

  • Goals, in order to. Estudio para ser doctor – I study to be a doctor. Trabaja mucho para ganar un buen salario – He works a lot to (in order to) earn a good salary.
  • Destination. Este mes voy para Centroamérica – This month I’m going to Central America.
  • Deadline. La tarea es para el lunes – The homework is for (due) Monday.
  • Recipient, for someone. Este regalo es para ti – This present is for you.

Examples of common para phrases

  • ¿Para dónde? – where to?
  • ¿Para qué? – for what?
  • Para que – in order to
  • Para mí – for me
  • Para ti – for you
  • Para siempre – forever
  • Para variar – for a change (used sarcastically)
  • Para rematar/colmo – to top it all off 🙁

Now that you know the differences, work on the exercises below.

  1. __________ mí es muy importante aprender español – For me it is very important to learn Spanish.
  2. No es necesario que trabajes tanto solo __________ ganar dinero – It is not necessary that you work so hard only to earn money.
  3. Ha viajado __________ barco. Ha sido un viaje muy largo – He has travelled via ship. It’s been a long trip.
  4. El ensayo es __________ la semana que viene – The essay is due next week.
  5. ¡Hablamos __________ tres horas! – We talked for three hours!
  6. Necesito entender la razón. __________ eso quiero hablarte – I need to understand the reason. That’s why I want to speak to you (on the phone).
  7. ¿Buscas algo __________ aquí? – Are you looking for something around here?
  8. ¿__________ qué quieres comprar tantas cosas? – Why do you want to buy so many things?
  9. __________ su novia haría cualquier cosa – He’d do anything for his girlfriend.
  10. Mi amor es solo __________ ti – My love is only for you <3

Answers: 1. para; 2. para/por; 3. por; 4. para; 5. por; 6. por; 7. por; 8. para/por; 9. por; 10. para.

When all fails, remember the odds are in your favor: you have a 50% chance of getting it right! 😉

Irma Cedeno

Irma is an educator, linguist, creativity expert, cultural competence strategist, and the founder of Diáfano, a company responsible for designing and implementing foreign language classes and programs at corporations. From universities and top US institutes to Fortune 500 companies, Irma has been an integral part of language learning and cultural competence training. After travelling to 40+ countries (and counting!) and over 10 years of working in education, she developed and honed her methodology in 2013 when she was living in Japan. The Diáfano Method is student-centered methodology that breaks down language learning into clear and simple steps.
Irma grew up bilingual and is a proud learner of French, Italian, Portuguese, and Japanese. Check her out at www.diafanomethod.com.

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