In Spanish por and para can cause serious confusion. They both translate as “for” in English but when should you use one or the other? When I learned Spanish grammar at school, this lesson was never covered. We all know the best way to learn Spanish is by immersion. My family in Chile told me to listen and eventually I would recognise by ear when to use por vs. para. They were right, but it’s not very educational advice. Language students that learn Spanish at home or take online Spanish lessons need guidance. Lingoda to the rescue! Here are some quick tips for understanding por vs. para in Spanish.
2 ways to say “for” in Spanish
There are two ways to say “for” in Spanish. Por and para both translate to the English word “for”. Let’s look at some examples where por vs. para are used.
Viajo por trabajo. Visito a mis padres por mi cumpleaños. – I travel for work. I visit my parents for my birthday.
Above, you can see that por directly translates to the English word “for”.
Hago deporte para estar sano. Veo documentales para estar informado. Aprendo español para poder hacer nuevos amigos. – I do sport (for/in order) to be healthy. I watch documentaries (for/in order) to be informed. I learn Spanish (for/in order) to be able to make new friends.
For para, you can see the English word “for” is implied. This makes it tough for native English speakers to hear. Let’s learn the difference.
When to use por
We use por in Spanish to express cause and effect. To hear correctly, try this trick. Whenever you can substitute the phrase “due to” in English, use por. Check out these examples:
Marta está estresada por su trabajo. – Marta is stressed “due to” her work.
Por el trabajo no ha sido posible visitaros antes. – “Due to” work, it has not been possible to visit earlier.
Viajo por negocios. – I travel for work./I travel “due to” work.
Compro regalos por Navidad. – I buy gifts for Christmas./I buy gifts “due to” Christmas.
We also use the phrase decidirse por in Spanish to talk about a decision that we have already made. In these cases, por means “in favour of” and is followed by a noun or a verb in the infinitive form. Observe below that in English we would use the gerund or –ing form of the verb, but this is incorrect for Spanish grammar.
Me he decidido por un perro en vez de un gato. – I have decided (for) a dog instead of a cat. (in favor of a dog)
Me he decidido por cambiar de trabajo. – I have decided (for) to change jobs. (in favor of changing)
Después de pensarlo mucho, Pedro se ha decidido por trasladarse a Alemania. – After thinking it over a lot, Pedro has decided (in favor of moving) to move to Germany.
When to use para
In Spanish we use para to refer to addressees (recipients). Simply:
Compro un regalo para mi hermano. – I buy a gift for my brother. (addressee)
Tengo un libro para Lisa. – I have a book for Lisa. ( addressee)
We also use para to express finality, an end goal. This means that whenever we can substitute the phrase “in order (to)”, use para. The structure in Spanish is “in order (to)” “infinitive verb” (to be, to see, to understand, etc.) In English it is repetitive to say (to) to “verb” but in Spanish grammar, this is correct.
Viajo para tener mas cultura. – I travel (for) to have more culture. I travel “in order (to)” to have more culture.
He llegado para verte. – I have arrived (for) to see you. I have arrived “in order (to)” to see you.
When to use por que
There is one more scenario you will hear the word por in Spanish. That is the compound word porque. Porque means “because” and answers the question ¿Por qué? or “Why?” You will recognise it because the two words are joined together and it does not have an accent.
No como verduras porque no me gustan. – I don’t eat vegetables because I don’t like them.
Hace frío porque estamos en invierno. – It is cold because we are in wintertime.
Have you been confused about por vs. para in Spanish before?