Por vs Para – 11 Rules Explained With Examples

Just like the verbs “ser” and “estar”, the Spanish prepositions “por” and “para” give English speakers a lot of headaches. In many cases, they both translate in the same way – “for” – which only makes the matter worse. 

So, if you are among those who struggle with “por” and “para”, you’ll surely appreciate the fact that there are certain rules that help distinguish between the two prepositions. 

7 Key Uses of the Word “Por” in Spanish

Let’s start with the word “por”. The list below shows its principal uses. 

  • Duration 
  • Author or doer
  • Means (travel, communication)
  • Exchange and substitution
  • Indefinite time period
  • Cause 
  • Unfinished task

4 Key Uses of the Word “Para” in Spanish

As for the Spanish preposition “para”, it is mainly used to indicate the following concepts:

  • destination
  • addressee or recipient
  • purpose / goal / reason
  • appointment / deadline

When to Use “Por” in Spanish – Examples

In the battle of “por” vs “para”, simply stating the differences between their usage might not be enough. 

From personal experience, I know there is nothing better to clarify doubts and boost understanding than examples that can be used in everyday situations. 

“Por” To Describe How Long an Action Lasts 

A common context for the word “por” is to make reference to the duration of an event or activity. 

It often appears together with Pretérito Perfecto and answers the question “how long?”. 

🇪🇸 He vivido en esta ciudad por muchos años.
🇬🇧 I have lived in this city for many years. 

🇪🇸 El profesor habló por dos horas seguidas. 
🇬🇧 The professor spoke for two hours straight. 

🇪🇸 María y Luis se irán a Barcelona por un tiempo.
🇬🇧 Maria and Luis will move to Barcelona for some time. 

🇪🇸 Este niño no puede estar tranquilo ni por un minuto.
🇬🇧 This child can’t be quiet even for a minute. 

“Por” to Specify The Doer or The Maker 

If you are familiar with the Spanish passive voice, you might have seen the preposition “por” in its role of defining the author of a given activity. 

🇪🇸 “Don Quijote” fue escrito por Miguel de Cervantes.
🇬🇧 “Don Quixote” was written by Miguel de Cervantes. 

🇪🇸 Este vuelo está operado por Iberia. 
🇬🇧 This flight is operated by Iberia.

🇪🇸 El uso de los celulares en la escuela ha sido prohibido por el director. 
🇬🇧 The use of mobile phones at school was banned by the headmaster.  

🇪🇸 Pedro ha sido contratado por Microsoft Colombia.
🇬🇧 Pedro has been hired by Microsoft Colombia.

The opposite of “contratado” is “despedido”. You can find more words like this in my post about Spanish business vocabulary.

“Por” to Explain the Means of Communication or Transport

When talking about communication or transport, “por” will help you indicate how they will occur. 

🇪🇸 ¿Podemos hablar por teléfono mañana?
🇬🇧 Can we talk by phone tomorrow?

🇪🇸 ¿Cuánto dura el viaje a Machu Picchu por tren?
🇬🇧 How long does it take to travel to Machu Picchu by train?

🇪🇸 Muy poca gente se comunica por carta en la actualidad.
🇬🇧 Very few people communicate by letter nowadays. 

🇪🇸 La ley fue aprobada por la mayoría simple. 
🇬🇧 The bill was passed by simple majority. 

“Por” to Introduce Exchange or Substitution 

Have you ever exchanged any of your belongings for something else?

A jacket for a sweater? 

🇪🇸 Test Your Spanish Knowledge 🇪🇸

A music CD for an LP?

Spanish classes for English classes?

The preposition “por” is required when talking about such arrangements. 

🇪🇸 Carlos cambió su bicicleta por un par de patines.
🇬🇧 Carlos exchanged his bicycle for a pair of rollerskates.

🇪🇸 ¿Cuántas manzanas me da por cinco soles?
🇬🇧 How many apples will I get for five soles (Peruvian currency)?

🇪🇸 Finalmente he decidido cambiar mi televisor viejo por una pantalla plana.
🇬🇧 I’ve finally decided to replace my old TV with a flat-screen. 

🇪🇸 Si no te gusta la leche, la puedes reemplazar por el yogurt. 
🇬🇧 If you don’t like milk, you can replace it with yoghurt.

“Por” to Talk about General Time Periods 

Whenever you mention a period of time that is only referential and not 100% defined yet, accompany it with the preposition “por”. 

🇪🇸 Los productos deberían llegar por por septiembre, octubre. 
🇬🇧 The products should arrive sometime in September or October. 

🇪🇸 La nueva carretera estará lista por el año 2025. 
🇬🇧 The new highway will be ready around 2025. 

🇪🇸 Los sábados por la noche hay mucho ruido en este sector. 
🇬🇧 There is a lot of noise in this area on Saturday nights. 

🇪🇸 Pasaré a verte por la tarde. 
🇬🇧 I’ll drop by sometime in the afternoon.

“Por” as a Way to Express The Cause

Did you know that “por” can also answer the question “why”?  The examples below illustrate this context. 

🇪🇸 Pedro fue despedido por haberle pasado información confidencial a la competencia.
🇬🇧 Pedro was fired for having passed confidential information onto the competition. 

🇪🇸 Estás castigado por pegarle a tu hermano. 
🇬🇧 You are punished for hitting your brother.  

🇪🇸 Los manifestantes están luchando por los derechos de las mujeres. 
🇬🇧 The protesters are fighting for women’s rights. 

🇪🇸 Las clases están suspendidas por la tormenta de nieve. 
🇬🇧 The classes are suspended due to the snowstorm. 

Speaking of snowstorms, weather vocabulary in Spanish can be very useful, especially when trying to make small talk

“Por” + Verb to Express an Unfinished Task

The last rule of using the preposition “por” has to do with activities we have taken up and haven’t finished yet. 

Aún” or “todavía” (eng. still) are very useful here:

🇪🇸 Aún me queda mucho trabajo por hacer. 
🇬🇧 I still have a lot of work to do. 

🇪🇸 Tenemos varios informes por revisar.
🇬🇧 We have several reports to review.

🇪🇸 No los puedo acompañar. Todavía me faltan cosas por terminar.
🇬🇧 I can’t join you. I still have things to finish. 

🇪🇸 Al doctor Gonzales aún le quedan tres pacientes por atender. 
🇬🇧 Doctor Gonzales still has three patients to attend. 

How about you? What is it that you still have to do before you wrap up your day?

How to Use “Para” in Spanish – Examples

Ladies and gentlemen, time for round 2 of today’s fight: “Por vs Para”.

Let’s welcome our second participant.

Similarly to “por”, the Spanish preposition “para” also has multiple uses. 

“Para” To Talk about Travel Destination

Thinking of going on a trip? Use “para” to indicate your travel destination (literally or figuratively), just like in the examples below. 

🇪🇸 Me voy para España.
🇬🇧 I’m going to Spain.

🇪🇸 ¿A qué hora sale el primer tren a Cusco?
🇬🇧 What time does the first train to Cusco leave?

🇪🇸 El fin de semana nos vamos para la playa. 
🇬🇧 We’re heading to the beach this weekend. 

🇪🇸 Estos juguetes se van para la venta del garage.
🇬🇧 These toys are going for the garage sale. 

“Para” to Indicate Addressee or Recipient

Choosing the right translation for the English “for” is quite tricky. When “for” refers to the recipient or addressee, pick “para”. 

🇪🇸 Ha llegado una carta para el papá.
🇬🇧 A letter has arrived for dad. 

🇪🇸 Este regalo es para tí.
🇬🇧 This present is for you. 

🇪🇸 Juan se ha ganado el premio para el mejor alumno.
🇬🇧 Juan has won the best student award.

🇪🇸 Hubo varias preguntas para el conferencista.
🇬🇧 There were many questions for the lecturer. 

“Para” to Explain the Purpose, Goal, or Objective

Another common use of the Spanish preposition “para” is to indicate why a given action is conducted and with what aim

🇪🇸 Estamos trabajando en una campaña de marketing para mejorar las ventas. 
🇬🇧 We are working on a marketing campaign to increase our sales. 

🇪🇸 He tomado clases de karate para sentirme más segura cuando salgo sola de noche. 
🇬🇧 I’ve taken up karate classes to feel safer when I go out by myself at night.

🇪🇸 Lucas se está esforzando mucho para poder estudiar medicina. 
🇬🇧 Lucas is working hard to study medicine. 

🇪🇸 Estamos ahorrando dinero para comprarnos una casa en la playa.  
🇬🇧 We’re saving money to buy a beach house. 

Wow, that sounds like a great idea!

“Para” as a Way to Express an Appointment / Deadline

In this case, the word “para” provides an answer to the question “when for”. Have a look:

🇪🇸 Necesito este informe para el lunes.
🇬🇧 I need this report for Monday. 

🇪🇸 Tengo hora con el doctor Salas para el 23 de marzo. 
🇬🇧 I have an appointment with doctor Salas for March 23rd. 

🇪🇸 Hay que agendar el pago de esta factura para el miércoles a lo más tardar.
🇬🇧 We have to schedule the payment of this invoice for Wednesday at the latest. 

🇪🇸 Quisiera cambiar mi hora con el dentista para la próxima semana, por favor. 
🇬🇧 I’d like to change my dental appointment for the next week, please. 

Common Expressions with “Por” And “Para”

To finish with, I’d like to show you a few fixed phrases with the words “por” and “para”. 

They can prove extremely useful for your daily communication. 

Por lo menos – At least

🇪🇸 Necesitamos por lo menos cuatro semanas para terminar. 
🇬🇧 We need at least for weeks to finish. 

Por lo tanto – Therefore

🇪🇸 Estamos en cuarentena. Por lo tanto no puedo ir a la oficina. 
🇬🇧 We are under lockdown. Therefore, I can’t go to the office. 

Por si acaso – Just in case

🇪🇸 ¿Puedes revisar si la puerta está cerrada con llave, por si acaso? 
🇬🇧 Can you check if the door is locked, just in case?

Por suerte – Luckily

🇪🇸 Chocamos con un árbol, pero por suerte nadie salió herido. 
🇬🇧 We collided with a tree, but luckily nobody got hurt. 

Por fin – At last, finally

🇪🇸 Despúes de muchos meses, por fin terminamos la remodelación de la casa. 
🇬🇧 After many months, we finally finished remodeling the house.  

Para que – So that, in order to

🇪🇸 Te he comprado una almohada nueva, para que duermas mejor. 
🇬🇧 I’ve bought you a new pillow so that you can sleep better. 

Para siempre – Forever

🇪🇸 Estaré contigo para siempre. 
🇬🇧 I’ll be with you forever.  

(No) para tanto – (Not) worth it

🇪🇸 ¿Porqué lloras? Tu herida es muy pequeña, no es para tanto. 
🇬🇧 Why are you crying? Your injury is very small, it’s not worth it. 

Estar para – To be designated for a purpose

🇪🇸 Estoy aquí para ayudarte con lo que necesites. 
🇬🇧 I’m here to help you with whatever you need. 

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Joanna Lupa
Joanna Lupa
Polish by birth, Chilean by the turns of life. Has spent 20 years in that beautiful South American country working as a language teacher and translator. Has taught Spanish and English to students of all proficiency levels. Passionate about languages, books, and traveling. A mother of 2 trilingual teenagers.

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