- Understand the difference between por and para and select the appropriate preposition for the context
- Use prepositional pronouns with por and para
“Por” and “Para” are two little words that cause more trouble for learners of Spanish than the length of the words would seem to predict. This is because prepositions in general are very idiomatic—that is to say that each language uses prepositions differently, and there’s not always a clear rule for predicting which one to use. For example, in the case of “por” and “para”, they can both be translated into English as “for”, but they’re not interchangeable, and in other situations they’re translated with completely different prepositions, like “by”, “through”, and “in order to”.
Rather than a rule which would have a ridiculous number of exceptions, you’re better off remembering which situations call for which word:
- Duration of time (for)
- Exchange (for, in place of, in exchange for)
- Motivation (for, for the sake of)
- Mode of travel or communication (by, through)
- e.g. La mujer embarazada llega al hospital por taxi, no por ambulancia. (The pregnant woman comes to the hospital by taxi, not ambulance.)
- e.g. La mujer entra por la puerta de urgencias y va por ese pasillo directamente a la sala de partos. (The woman enters through the emergency room door, and goes along that hallway directly to the maternity ward.)
- Deadlines (by, for)
- Recipient, beneficiary (for)
- Purpose, goal (in order to, to)
- Destination of travel (for, to)
Ejemplos que contrastan “por” y “para”
¡No son intercambiables! (They are not interchangeable!)
- Debo escribir esa tarea por dos horas. -versus- Debo escribir esa tarea para el lunes. When talking about time, “por” means a specific amount or duration of time. “Para” is used for deadlines.
- El autobús va para el aeropuerto. -versus- El autobús va por el centro del pueblo. When talking about movement, “para” means “to” and is used for a direction or destination. “Por” means “through” and is used for the route.
- Yo trabajo para Juan. -versus- Yo trabajo por Juan. When talking about work, “para” is used to identify your supervisor, the person you work “for”. “Por” in this kind of sentence can mean either “in place of”, i.e. you’re substituting for Juan at work, or it can mean “for the sake of” if he’s your motivation for working.
- Por ahora (for now, for the time being)
- Por completo (completely)
- Olvidé por completo que las estaciones en la Argentina están al revés de las estaciones en el Hemisferio Norte, y no empaqué ropa abrigada para julio. (I completely forgot that the seasons in Argentina are the opposite of the seasons in the Northern Hemisphere, and I didn’t pack warm clothes for July.)
- Por ejemplo (for example)
- Por eso (That’s why)
- Por favor (please)
- Por fin (at last, finally)
- Por lo menos (at least)
- Por si acaso (just in case)
- Por supuesto (of course)
- Para empezar (to begin with, for starters)
- Para nada (not at all)
- Estar para (+ infinitive) (to be about to, to be ready to)
Spanish has a set of pronouns to use after prepositions when you don’t want to keep repeating someone’s name or the noun that you’re talking about. The prepositional pronouns are almost all the same as the subject pronouns, except for the first and second-person singular forms. Watch out for accent marks, spelling counts!
¡OJO! The first and second persons singular make a contraction with the preposition “con” (and only that one!): “conmigo” and “contigo”.