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What is the difference between "por" and "para?"

I know they both mean for, but I'm trying to remember when to use each of them.

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PARA (preposition) utilidad      for prep
Este jarabe es para la tos.
finalidad in order to prep
Mi madre fue al supermercado para comprar pan.
dirección  to prep
El autobús sale para Madrid a las tres

Como para qué?    to do what?
¿Cómo se hace para…?   how do you…?    what would you do so that…?
¿Cómo voy a hacer para…?   what should I do so that…
how do I [verb] ...?
¿Cuál es la ruta para…? which way to…? how do we get to…? What's the route to…?
¿Cuánto falta para…? how long before…
how close are we to ...?
¿Cuánto tiempo falta para…? how much longer before we get to…

antes de salir para... before leaving for
anticipo para... an advance for something
antifaz para dormir... sleeping mask
anuncio para... announcement for

POR  (Preposition) por causa de for prep
Juan se hizo el tatuaje por una apuesta.

indica tránsito por un lugar by prep
Pasa por la farmacia y tráeme chicles para el mareo.
durante for prep
Mi sobrina vino a verme por vacaciones.
por medio de by prep
Ana habló por teléfono con su marido.
signo de multiplicar times prep
Dos por tres son seis.
a través de through prep
La pelota entró por la ventana.
cada per prep
Hay dos caramelos por niño.
sin purpose to prep
Hay asientos por ocupar.
Cuánto es por todo? what's the total amount? How much is it for everything?
¿Cuánto quiere por…? how much are you asking for…? What do you want for…?
¿por qué no te callas? why don't you shut up?
¿por qué no? why not?
¿por qué si no? then why not?
¿por quién pregunto? who should I ask for?
a cien por hora 100 mph, extremely fast
a juzgar por judging by
a no ser por if it wasn't for, if not for

 

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18 Answers

It is definitely tricky at first, like Valerie said. Both are prepositions that roughly translate to "for," but in reality have many different meanings. It is actually best NOT to think of them as meaning “for” because they have many significances and can usually mean whole phrases such as “in order to.” You can think about it this way: Para has a goal and direction in mind and por explains details. If you are running a race, para would be used to talk about the goal of crossing the finish line and por would describe the route you took and how long it took.
Para has less meanings than por and is used when there is a specific recipient, goal, or destination. It can sometimes be replaced with the phrases "in order to," or "headed to" or "the date it is due by" to verify that para is the correct option; para will always have a goal in mind.
-Para + infinitive verb= in order to
-Para + time/day=by (deadline)
-Para + place= headed towards destination
-Para + recipient (mí, ti, etc)= to be received by destined person. Gifts are an example
-Para mí or Para una anciana, etc= to express one's opinion about something or to express a point of view about someone who defies generalizations (Para mí, la corrida de toros es cruel. For me(in my opinion), bullfighting is cruel. OR Para una anciana, maneja bien. For an old woman, she drives well)
-To show the purpose/what something serves for (¿Para qué sirve un horno? Sirve para hornear comida. What purpose does an oven serve? Its purpose is to bake food)

Por takes on even more meanings. To give a rough overview, "por" is used to express passage of time or movement, mode of movement, reason why, or when things are exchanged. It can mean “through” or “by.” This list covers most but not all of its meanings:
-In exchange for (money, goods)
-Duration of time and general period of time(por la mañana, por un rato)
-Multiplication and division
-In support of, on behalf of (Luchamos por los derechos humanos. We fight for (in support of) human rights )
-By means of (airplane, walking, etc)
-Through, by the area of (park, city)
-Motive of, because of, or reason (No monté en la montaña rusa por miedo. I didn't get on the roller coaster because of fear)
-By (in passive constructions when showing who completed an action. You will see a conjugation of ser (es, fue, fueron) or estar(está, estuvo) then a past participle such as “hecho” or “escrito”) -El libro fue escrito por Kafka. The book was written by Kafka.
-Set expressions such as: gracias por, por ejemplo, por supuesto y mucho más 
Contrasting examples: Estudié por dos horas. (I studied for two hours. This explains how I spent my two hours, but has no mention of a goal or deadline) Estudio para ser una abogada (I study in order to become a lawyer. This explains my goal for studying while “por” in the previous sentence just talks about a period of time) Mi tarea es para el lunes (My homework is due on Monday. The mention of a date is a deadline in this example)
Two last thoughts:
-Remember that when a verb is used right after a preposition (which por and para both are), it always stays in the infinitive. Para sacar una buena nota, hay que estudiar (In order to get a good grade...) or Gracias por ayudarme (Thanks for helping me)
-Parar is a verb that means “to stop.” The informal command for someone to stop is “Para.” I like to think of “para” as no-nonsense and straight-to-the-point. It has a goal in mind and it doesn’t care about the means of reaching the goal. So “por” is used for explaining the details and para doesn’t care about them. “Para” says stop to the details and just wants the goal and destination to be stated (It has the finish line in mind, like the race I mentioned at the end of the first paragraph)

 

 

NO es tan difícil como parece pero debes de aprendelas poco a poco. Aquí están todas pero no intentes aprenderlas en una semana porque ni Cervantes sería capaz de poder llevar a cabo esa empresa. Recomiendo que si tu nivel es inicial vayas con cuidado y paso a paso.

Usos de POR

Causa, motivo o razón:

  • Vinimos a Chile por mi familia.
  • Brindemos por tu cumpleaños.

Espacio de tiempo:

  • Estudié en Woodward por 10 meses.
  • Viviré en Chile por 2 años.

Lugar aproximado:

  • En un mes estaré por Punta Arenas.
  • Esta tarde pasaré por tu casa.

Lugar donde se pasa:

  • Voy a Isla Negra por Algarrobo.
  • Queremos pasar por Pomaire antes de llegar a Santiago.

A cambio de algo:

  • Cambio mi novela por tu revista.
  • Carolina intercambia clases de matemáticas por clases de biología.

Precio (para vender):

  • Se vende computador por cuatrocientos mil pesos.
  • Vendo collares por dos dólares.

En nombre de otra persona, en lugar de, sustitución:

  • No hables por nosotros, habla por ti.
  • ¿Puedes llevar estas cajas por nosotros?

Medio:

  • Mándame el informe por correo electrónico.
  • La única forma de llegar a esa isla es por avión.

Modo:

  • Estudio español por mi voluntad.

Equivale a "a comprar":

  • Anda al supermercado por los jugos.

Equivale a "a buscar":

  • Pasarán por ti a las ocho de la mañana.
  • Ven por nosotros a las seis de la tarde.

Reparto, distribución:

  • El viaje costará 500 dólares por pareja.
  • Es un helado por niño.

Velocidad:

  • La velocidad máxima en la carretera es de 120 kilómetros por hora.
  • Muchas personas conducen en la ciudad a 70 kilómetros por hora.

Parte del día:

  • Haré la tarea por la noche.
  • Mi amiga y yo salimos a correr por las mañanas.

A punto de realizar una acción:

  • Estamos por salir a tu casa.
  • Los invitados están por llegar.

 

Usos de PARA

 

Finalidad u objetivo:

  • Estudié en Woodward para aprender español.
  • Carlos está tomando clases de cocina para preparar la cena de Navidad.

Término de un plazo fijo:

  • Esta tarea es para mañana.
  • Necesito el informe para el miércoles.

Equivale a "con dirección a":

  • Salgo para Puerto Montt el viernes.
  • El fin de semana vamos para tu casa.

Destino:

  • Esta caja es para el correo.
  • Llevemos estos juguetes para el hogar de niños.

Opinión:

  • Para mí, jugar con mis hijos es lo más importante.
  • Para ti, aprender otro idioma es muy entretenido.

Relaciones de desigualdad:

  • Esa niña, para tener cuatro años es muy alta.
  • Para llevar en Chile solo un mes, hablas muy bien español.

Localización de tiempo preciso:

  • Mis padres vendrán a nuestra casa para Navidad.
  • Sandra dijo que iría a tu casa para tu cumpleaños.

Uso:

  • El libro que te dí es para que estudies español.
  • Este acondicionador es especial para tu tipo de pelo.

Por cierto, están sacadas de esta web donde hay maravilloso ejercicios para que practiques tus destrezas. http://www.spanish.cl/Grammar/Notes/Por_vs_Para.htm

Hey Abigail,

What a great question!  This is one of the biggest challenges for Spanish language learners.  It is something that will come more naturally with time, as you experience more and more Spanish.  Eventually, you will find that "it just sounds right."

It looks like other tutors have already given you quite a few examples, but here is an excellent resource where you can take a practice quiz.  Practice is the best way to learn!

http://www.spanishdict.com/topics/show/10

 

I think the main confusion comes when faced with the decision between "por" or "para" when they can both be used.
 
El pastel fue preparado para Maria. The cake was made FOR Maria.
(Maria has nothing to do with the preparation.)
 
El pastel fue preparado por Maria. The cake was made BY Maria.
(Maria is directly involved in having made the cake.)
 
In this last case, you can change from the passive voice to the preterite to say:
Maria preparó el pastel. (Maria prepared the cake.)

The problem is that two Spanish prepositions, por and para, frequently are used for the English word "for.         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."

Major uses of these two prepositions:

Uses for por:

Expressing movement along, through, around, by or about: Camine por las calles de Madrid. I walked through the streets of Madrid.

Denoting a time or duration when something occurs. Estaremos fuera por tres meses. We will be out for three months.

Expressing the cause (not the purpose) of an action: Me resbale por el hielo. I slipped because of the ice.

Meaning per: Cien por ciento. Hundred percent.

Meaning supporting or in favor of: Trabajamos por derechos humanos. We work for human rights.

Introducing the agent of an action after a passive verb: Fue escrito por Raymon Perez. It was written by Raymon Perez.

Indicating means of transportation: Viajaré por barco. I will travel by boat.

Used in numerous expressions: Por ejemplo. For example. Por favor. Please.

Uses for para:

Meaning for the purpose of or in order to: Para bailar la bamba, necesita una poca de gracia. In order to dance the bamba you need a little grace.

With a noun or pronoun as object, meaning for the benefit of or directed to: Es para ti. It's for you.

Meaning to or in the direction of when referring to a specific place: Voy para Miami . I'm going to Miami.

Meaning by or for when referring to a specific time: Necesito el carro para mañana. I need the car for tomorrow. 

The problem most people have with the whole por vs. para thing is that somebody taught them that they both mean for. This is incorrect.The word para is the word that means for. Por means by (means of), because of, in exchange for, or through. Sometimes in English we would translate por to mean for, but only when the word for in English is referring to the previous meanings by means of, because of, in exchange for, or through." 

1. I give you my hat (in exchange) for your shirt. Yo te doy mi sombrero por tu camisa

2. I am happy because of you. Yo estoy feliz por ti.

3. We travel by (means of) train. Viajamos por tren.

4. I drive through the street. Manejo por la calle.

5. This gift is for you. Este regalo es para usted.

6. The food is for her. La comida es para ella.

Propósito

Indicar el propósito de una acción o fin. Es equivalente en inglés a la frase in order to.

ejemplos

Comemos para vivir.

We eat (in order) to live.

Dana estudia para dentista.

Dana studies to be a dentist.

La reunión es para comentar el libro.

he meeting is to discuss the book.

Comparación

Indicar el contraste de una idea, persona, objeto, o una situación que se distinga de otro grupo en la misma categoría.

ejemplos

Para una revista de modas, es muy cara.

For a fashion magazine, it is very expensive.

Es precoz para ser un niño de siete años.

He is precocious for a seven year old boy.

All those above are great answers.  I have to admit that it is one of many complexities of the Spanish language and I am sure all languages share the same degree of complexities.  As a bilingual speaker: native Spanish and English as a second language, and teacher of both, I have come to the conclusion that Spanish is a more difficult language to learn in terms of its grammar structure than English.  In terms of pronunciation, Spanish is easier because it is a very phonetic language.    As I said, all languages have complexities.  In English, for example, the prepositions  IN, AT, ON -to mention just a few- are a nightmare for Spanish speakers!.  My advice is: listening to native speakers, the way they use this prepositions, is a great way to learn the use of them.  It will stick to your brains, believe me; but you have to be a persistent learner and listener.   Watch the news in Spanish, I recommend CNN.

 

Por is used before a time to express for how long and to express in exchange for.

Yo estudié por cinco  horas. I studied for five hours.

Pagué diez  dólares por el libro. I paid ten dollars for the book.

 

Para is used to express for what person, place, or purposesomething (or some action) is intended.

Esta fiesta  es para el profesor. This party  is for the teacher.

Salimos para Venezuela . We're leaving for Venezuela.

Este papel es para (escribir) cartas. This paper is for (writing) letters.

Before a verb paragenerally meansin order to.

Understanding the difference between por and para 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." 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 shows some of the major uses of these two prepositions: Uses for por: Expressing movement along, through, around, by or about: Anduve por las calles de la ciudad. I walked through the streets of the city. Denoting a time or duration when something occurs: Viajamos por tres semanas. We're traveling for three weeks. Expressing the cause (not the purpose) of an action: Me caí por la nieve. I fell down because of the snow. Meaning per: Dos por ciento. Two percent. Meaning supporting or in favor of: Trabajamos por derechos humanos. We work for human rights. Introducing the agent of an action after a passive verb: Fue escrito por Bob Woodward. It was written by Bob Woodward. Indicating means of transportation: Viajaré por avión. I will travel by plane. Used in numerous expressions: Por ejemplo. For example. Por favor. Please. Uses for para: Meaning for the purpose of or in order to: Para bailar la bamba, necesita una poca de gracia. In order to dance the bamba you need a little grace. With a noun or pronoun as object, meaning for the benefit of or directed to: Es para usted. It's for you. Meaning to or in the direction of when referring to a specific place: Voy para Europa. I'm heading to Europe. Meaning by or for when referring to a specific time: Necesito el regalo para mañana. I need the gift for tomorrow. Vamos a la casa de mi madre para el fin de semana. We're going to my mother's for the weekend.

Great question!

 

These two often cause confusion and I think examples would be best suited in demonstrating how they differ. In simple terms, "para" means for the purpose of (in order to)/for someone, while "por" means in exchange for/for a period of time. 

Examples: PARA-He cocinado esta comida para ti=I've made this food FOR you. 

He escrito estas notas para ayudarle a Miguel con su tarea=I've written these notes IN ORDER TO help Miguel with his homework. 

 

POR-Ya he pagado POR mi abuela=I've already paid FOR my grandma (meaning that you've paid for her to do something, not that you've bought her! =))

Voy a viajar en Europa por dos meses=I am going to travel in Europe FOR two months. 


Best of luck!!

In English you can use preposition "for"  it can be used for both (por, para)  but in Spanish depending of the meaning is when it needs to use "por" or "para"

example:

indirect object:

Lo compró para ella . He bought it for her

To indicate support for or action on behalf of some person or cause:

 El es el  representante por el estado de Californa. He is the representative for the state of California

 

 

 

 

 

Por is used before a time to express for how long and to express in exchange for.

Yo estudié por dos horas. I studied for two hours.

Pagué cinco dólares por el libro. I paid five dollars for the book.


Para is used to express for what person, place, or purposesomething (or some action) is intended.

Esta tarea es para el profesor. This homework is for the teacher.

Salimos para México. We're leaving for Mexico.

Este papel es para (escribir) cartas. This paper is for (writing) letters.

Before a verb paragenerally meansin order to.

 

 

Por Vs. Para

Both have different use and meanings.

Example for "POR"

Cause, motive, reason, price (Causa, motive, razon, precio)

Estudie en El Salvador por 14 anos. (I studied in El Salvador for 14 years)

Brindemos por Carlos. (Let's toast to Carlos)

En la tarde pasare por tu casa. (In the afternoon I will come through your house)

Example "PARA"

Direction, opinion, use, destiny (Direccion, opinion, uso, destino)

Estoy aprendiendo Espanol para tener mas opciones. (I am leaning Spanish to have more options)

Mi tarea es para manana. (My homework is due tomorrow)

Salgo para el Norte de Carolina el Lunes. (I leave for North Carolina Monday)

 

 

Uses of the prepositions POR and PARA The propositions POR and PARA can both mean “for,” but they have different uses: PARA is use to express: 1. Where: Someone is going. - Luis va para el parque. (Luis is going to the park) 2. An opinion. - Para mí ese carro es mejor (For me that car is better) 3. A deadline or time limit. - Termina la tarea para las cinco (Finish the homework by five o’clock ) 4. Purpose (for, in order to). - Esos zapatos son buenos para caminar (Those shoes are good for walking) POR is use to expres: 1. The reason for something: - No voy para el trabajo porque estoy enferma.(I'm not going to work because I'm sick) 2. Movement through a place: - El perro entra por la puerta. (The dog enters by the door) 3. Times of the day - Trabajo por la tarde. (I work in the afternoon) 4. A price or an exchange: - Él lo compró por cinco dólares. (He bought it for five dollars) 5. Means of transportation: - Vamos por avión. (We are going by plane) 6. Duration of time: - Vamos a estudiar por tres horas. (We will study for three hours)

In SPanish we use Para:

1-purpose:these glasses are for near, estas gafas son para ver de cerca.

2-near future: I have to finish this work for the first. tengo que terminar este trabajo el dia uno.

3-opinion- for me, the best would be painting...para mi lo mejor seria pintar..

4-recipient- I bought it for you, la he comprado para ti.

5-addresse-are you going to the center? vas para el centro?

In Spanish we use POR:

1-cause-do nothing but laziness sport,no hace deporte por pereza.

2-replacement-I changed my dolars for euros, he cambiado mis dolares por euros.

3-agent complement in passive voice-Thieves are detained by police. los ladrones han sido detenidos por la policia.

4-peridicity-go to the gym 2 times a week, vaya al gimnasio 2veces por semana.

5-Appropriate location-I think the house was here, creo que la casa estaba por aqui.

6-medium-send me  the certificate by fax. enviame el certificado por fax.

7-price-I bought this shoes for 60$, he comprado estos zapatos por 60$.

 

 

It's tricky. How I learned it was that para is used when there's some sort of direction, purpose, or deadline. Por ejemplo, "this cake is for the party" would be translated using "para." So would, "I have a job for the summer," or "this dress is perfect for you."

Por is used when the sentence is less directional. Ongoing tasks ("for three months"), exchange ("I paid for the dinner," "His lawyer speaks for him"), and emotions ("he has respect for his boss," or "I am stronger for the experience") would all be translated using "por."

very simple and without so many examples:

por= for.   2 for $3; 2 por 3 dolares.    for example; por ejemplo.    for what reason; por que razon.

 

para= to . to the right -left- para la derecha-izquierda-.    for the eye sight; para la vision.     to me; para mi

Mahmud I.  Griffith, Indiana