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This is a very common question among Spanish students: when to use "por" or "para" as, in English, both can be translated as "for".

The clue is the meaning. Look at these English sentences:

This present if for you.
I've waited for two hours

The translation for the first sentence is: Este regalo es para ti. But the second sentence is translated as: (Yo) He esperado por dos horas.

Confusing?? Note that we (Spanish speakers) also find difficult to use / translate some English prepositions!

Ok, below you'll find some rules that can help you understand when to use the Spanish prepositions por and para.

POR is used:

  • To express the cause of an act.
    Él no duerme por el ruido del tráfico.
    (He doesn't sleep because of the noise of traffic)
  • To express time or duration.
    Yo esperé por dos horas.
    (I waited for two hours)

    (NOTE: In Spain, instead of "por", to indicate time / duration, we use "durante": "Yo esperé durante dos horas" or, we can even omit it: "Yo esperé dos horas" )
  • In passive sentences:
    Este libro ha sido comprado por doscientas personas.
    (This book has been bought by two hundred people.)
  • To express idea of movement, with: around, by, along, through.
    Mis hijos corren por el parque.
    (My sons run through the park.)
  • To express means of transportation:
    Yo siempre viajo por tren.
    (I always travel by train.)

    (NOTE: In Spain, instead of "por", to indicate means of transportation, we also use the preposition"en": "Yo siempre viajo en tren".)
  • Talking about means of communication:
    Te envío el documento por fax.
    (I'm sending you the document by fax.)
  • With multiplications, divisions and percentages:
    Cien por cien.

    Tres por dos son seis.
    (Three times two equals six)

These are the main situations where "por" should be use. There are also a lot of expressions with "por". Some of them are:

por casualidad = by chance
por ejemplo = for example
por favor = please
por fin = finally
por lo menos = at least
por medio de = by means of
por supuesto = of course

PARA is used:

  • To mean in order to, and followed by an infinitive.
    Para llegar a tiempo, tienes que correr.
    (In order to [To] arrive in time, you have to run.)
  • To express purpose or use of something:
    Ésta es la botella para vino.
    (This is the bottle for wine.)
  • To show the person/thing receiving a benefit or action:
    Este regalo es para María.
    (This present is for Mary.)
  • To indicate a destination:
    La semana próxima voy para Madrid.
    (Next week I'm going to Madrid.)
  • To indicate a deadline or concrete time:
    Necesito este informe para mañana.
    (I need this report no later than tomorrow.)

I know the use of por and para may seem difficult, but my advice is: Learn all this rules and read Spanish texts; when you find por or para, try to understand the meaning of the sentence, and then, review these rules, in order to find the concrete one you can apply to the preposition. This way you'll get familiar with these two Spanish prepositions.

For any question or doubt, feel free to e-mail me or just post a message at the forum.

¡Que tenga un buen día!
Angeles F.

VOCABULARY IN THIS LESSON (alphabetical order):
a tiempo: in time
botella (f): bottle
cien: one hundred
corren (correr): (they) run (to run)
dos: two
doscientas (f): two hundred
(el) duerme (dormir): he sleeps (to sleep)
(yo) envío (enviar): I send / I'm sending (To send)
(yo) esperé (esperar): I waited (to wait)
ésta (f): this
este(m): this
ha sido comprado (comprar): (it) has been bought (to buy)
hijos (m): sons
(yo) he esperado (esperar): I have waited (to wait)
hora (f): hour
informe (m): report
llegar: to arrive
mañana: tomorrow / morning
mis: my
(yo) necesito (necesitar): I need
parque (m): park
por casualidad:by chance
por ejemplo: for example.
por favor: please.
por fin: finally
por lo menos: at least.
por medio de: by means of
por supuesto: of course
próxima (f): next
regalo (m): present
ruido (m): noise
semana (f): week
siempre: always
te : to you
(tú) tienes que (tener): you have to (to have to)
tráfico (m): traffic
tren (m): train
viajo (viajar): I travel (to travel)
vino (m): wine

Recommended material:

I write monthly articles for "Think Spanish" ("Piensa en español") since 2002. All "Think Spanish" articles are written in Spanish, and they include a Spanish/English glossary. You'll also have the option to buy this magazine including a CD. Nice way to learn about Spanish language and customs!
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This content was written by Angeles Fernández. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Angeles Fernández for details.


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