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4. 'Por' and 'Para' - How to say 'for' in Spanish
The terms ‘por’ and ‘para’ are often confused by English speakers who learn Spanish. The confusion is caused because the meaning of these terms really depends on the context. The best way to get a feel for how/when they are used is to just look at different examples.
Different uses of 'para'
1. The easiest usage of 'para' is the one that means ‘for’ or ‘in order to’:
Compré este libro para usted – I bought this book for you
Traiga su amigo para jugar fútbol con nosotros – Bring your friend to play soccer with us
Despejé todo el cuarto para ayudarte – I cleared the whole room to help you
Ella necesita el código para sacar el dinero – She needs the code to take out (withraw) the money
Para nosotros hablar inglés todo el día es difícil – For us, speaking English all day is difficult
2. ‘para’ can also be used to say that you are going somewhere:
Me voy para Francia – I am leaving for France
¿Nos vamos para la casa? – Are we leaving for home?
El tren salió para Madrid – The train left for Madrid
¿Para dónde vas? – Where are you going?
3. ‘para’ can also be used to indicate a time limit:
Lo vamos a terminar para mañana – We are going to finish it for/by tomorrow
¿Para qué fecha lo necesitas? – For/by which date do you need it?
Different uses of 'por'
1. ‘por’ can be used to indicate expressions involving time:
Vivimos aquí por diez años – We have lived in the US for 10 years
Lo terminaremos por Diciembre – We will finish it around December
2. ‘por’ is also commonly used to mean ‘through’ or ‘by’:
Viajamos por Alemania pero sólo paramos en Berlín – We travelled through Germany but we only stopped in Berlin
¿Por qué no pasamos por donde Andrés a saludarle? – Why don’t we pass by Andres’ place to say hello
Pasamos por el teatro pero no entramos – We passed by the theatre but we didn’t go in
3. ‘por’ is also used to express something you are about to do:
Estamos por empezar – We are about to/ready to begin
Estamos por salir – We are about to/ready to leave
either 'por' or 'para'
The trickiest cases are when you can use either ‘por’ or ‘para’ but each one changes the meaning of the sentence. So you have to be very sure of what you mean to say before picking either one.
Compré este libro para ti – I bought it for you (I bought the book to give to you)
Compré este libro por ti – I bought it for you (I bought the book because of you. You were the reason I bought it but I didn’t necessarily buy it to give to you. I could have bought it for myself or someone else)
In general understanding the difference between ‘por’ and ‘para’ just takes practice. Pay attention to the way native speakers use them. It’s worth the effort to avoid misunderstandings. Below are a few more miscellaneous examples using ‘por’ and ‘para’:
Usted me tomó por un idiota – You took me for a fool
Usted puede pasar por un Latino – You could pass for a Latino
Queda mucho por hacer – There is a lot left to be done
Ellos me pagaron mil pesos por un día de trabajo – The paid me a thousand pesos for a day of work
¿Vamos por aquí or por allí? – Shall we go this way or that way?
Saliendo del aparcamiento, otro carro nos chocó por atrás – While coming out of the parking lot, another car hit us from behind
Manejaban a doscientos kilómetros por hora – They were driving at 200 km/hr
Cuestan 10 pesos por docena – They cost 10 pesos per dozen