Por vs. Para: When & how to use them & fun practice questions (2023)

One of the biggest things standing in between a good and a great Spanish speaker is the mastery of prepositions like por and para.

They say the devil is in the details, and nothing could be more representative of it than the subtle-yet-massive difference between these two little Spanish prepositions. As you may have already learned in your Spanish class, both of them translate roughly to “for” in English. However, they aren’t synonymous with one another and cannot be used interchangeably.

So, what’s the difference between por and para? Turns out, the difference is quite philosophical in nature: por is reflective, while para is more forward-looking. Para looks at the final purpose of an action, whereas por looks at the means through which that action is being achieved.

If that sounds a little nebulous, don’t worry too much about it. In this article, we’re going to give you an in-depth review of the difference between por and para and detailed cases of when to use each of the two. We’ll also include a helpful quiz at the end to help you check how well you can tell between these two Spanish prepositions.

¿Listos para empezar? Let’s go!

Por vs. Para: When & how to use them & fun practice questions (1)

What’s the difference between por and para?

The prepositions por and para are used for slightly different purposes. In general, para is used to refer to the destination or final purpose of an action, whereas por focuses on the means of or cause for achieving it.

Roughly, the key differences between por and para are:

  • Por is used to explain why, para is used to explain for what. For example, “estudio por gusto” (I study for pleasure) versus “estudio para no reprobar” (I study to not fail).
  • Por is for tor movement, para is for destinations. For example, “voy a caminar por el parque” (I’m going to walk through the park) versus “este camión va para Madrid” (this bus is headed towards Madrid).
  • Por is for time periods, para is for deadlines. For example, “te esperé por media hora” (I waited for you for half an hour) versus “faltan 20 para las dos” (it’s 20 until two).
  • Por is used to describe something done by someone, para is used to describe something that’s for someone. For example, “el misterio fue resuelto por Roberto” (the mystery was solved by Roberto) versus “estas flores son para ti” (these flowers are for you).

When to use por

The preposition por was introduced to Spanish earlier than the preposition para, and, as such, has developed a wide variety of uses over the centuries. A good tip to keep in mind is, if you’re ever unsure whether to use por or para in a sentence, you’re statistically more likely to guess correctly if you go for por!

Ideally, however, you want to get to the point where you don’t have to guess the correct preposition, so here are ten situations when you’ll definitely want to use por!

Por vs. Para: When & how to use them & fun practice questions (2)

1. Movement within an approximate space or time

Prepositions help us situate objects by relating the noun to the rest of the sentence. And with about 46 different prepositions in Spanish, it’s not difficult to find a preposition that will let you speak extremely accurately about your location in space or time. However, when you don’t want to be specific and simply want to talk about your general location, you can use the preposition por.

Spanish English
Ayer pasé por tu casa. I passed by your house yesterday.
¿Sabes de algún buen restaurante por aquí? Do you know of any good restaurants around here?
Tengo clases de baile por la tarde. I have dance classes in the afternoon.
Siempre hace frío por aquí. It’s always cold around here.
Creo que te vi ayer por la mañana. I think I saw you yesterday in the morning.

2. Movement through a space

You can use the preposition por when talking about movement through something, such as a door or a tunnel. Here are some examples:

Spanish English
Entra por la caseta principal. Come in through the main gate.
Primero vas a tener que pasar por un túnel. You’ll first have to go through a tunnel.
Cuando hayas pasado por las montañas, ya estarás cerca de mi pueblo. Once you’ve passed through the mountains, you’ll be very close to my hometown.
Recuerda entrar por la puerta trasera. Remember to come in through the back door.

3. Time periods

Use the preposition por to talk about specific time periods or durations. When using this preposition, you’re emphasizing the duration of the action, not necessarily the start or end time of it. Here are some examples:

Spanish English
Te esperé por veinte minutos. I waited for you for twenty minutes.
Podemos pedir pizza para cenar, pero tendresmos que esperar por una hora. We can order a pizza for dinner, but we’ll have to wait for an hour.
Solo te voy a ver por dos días. I’m only going to see you for two days.
¡El semáforo apenas estuvo en verde por dos segundos! The traffic light was green for barely two seconds!

4. Cause, reason, or motivation

This is one of the trickiest uses of por to understand, namely because para has a very similar use. When talking about the cause, reason, or motivation behind initiating an action, we use the preposition por. However, when talking about a future result or desire, we use para.

Spanish English
El vuelo fue demorado por condiciones climáticas. The flight was delayed due to the weather conditions.
Gracias por tu paciencia. Thank you for your patience.
Estoy nervioso por mi cirugía de mañana. I’m nervous about my surgery tomorrow.
Le dieron un premio por sus logros. They gave her an award for her achievements.
Todo lo que hizo mi mamá fue por mí. Everything my mom did was for me.
Trabajan por placer. They work for pleasure.

5. Exchange or substitution

If you’re thinking of learning Spanish for business, then you’ll definitely want to learn this use of the preposition por. This preposition is used when talking about exchanges or substitutions, making it an excellent way to trade, barter, and talk business. Here are some examples:

Spanish English
Compré esta bolsa por un precio irresistible. I bought this purse at an irresistible price.
Te cambio mi sándwich por el tuyo. I’ll swap my sandwich for yours.
Me tomaron por tonto. They took me for a fool.
Repartieron dos rebanadas de pizza por persona. They handed out
Pagué diez dólares por este sándwich. I paid ten dollars for this sandwich.
No podré terminar el reporte porque me enfermé. ¿Podrías terminarlo por mí? I won’t be able to finish the report because I got sick. Could you finish it for me?

6. Medium

Mediums of communication and transportation go with the preposition por. Similarly to point #2 above, they help get you from point A to point B, thus helping you move through a space. Similarly, any means of achieving something also uses the preposition por, as it’s also getting you to a particular place.

Spanish English
Comuníquese por correo electrónico. Get in touch through email.
Viajar por avión es más cómodo. Traveling by plane is much more comfortable.
Mi parte favorita de mi viaje a Suiza fue viajar por tren a través de las montañas. My favorite part about my trip to Switzerland was traveling by train through the mountains.
Te llamé por teléfono, pero no me contestaste. I called you by phone, but you didn’t pick up.
Ya nos casamos por lo civil, pero aún no por la iglesia. We’re already legally married, but we haven’t gotten married by the church yet.
Es más fácil llegar a Valencia por tren que por auto. It’s easier to get to Valencia by train than by car.

7. Opinions and hypotheticals

You can use por to share your opinions by forming hypotheticals. When you say “por mí,” you can follow with what you would do if you were in charge of the situation. That’s because “por mí” is short for “si fuera por mí,” which means “if it were up to me.” Here are some examples of how to use this handy hypothetical:

Spanish English
Por mí, que se vaya mañana. If it were up to me, I’d say he can leave tomorrow.
Por mí, no hay ningún problema. If it were up to me, I’d say there’s no problem,
Por nosotros, mejor hay que comer en casa. If it were up to us, we’d say we should eat at home.
Yo creo que por ella, mejor cenamos en un restaurante. I think that if it were up to her, we’d better have dinner at a restaurant.

8. Percentages and ratios

Another important use for all the important business people out there, the preposition por helps us talk about ratios and percentages. Here are some examples:

Spanish English
Este tren va a 300 kilómetros por hora. This train goes 300 kilometers per hour.
Nuestras ganancias subieron un veinte por ciento. Our profits increased by twenty percent.
El nuevo modelo de auto es un diez por ciento más veloz. The new car model is ten percent faster.
Esta maquiladora produce dos mil productos por hora. This factory produces two thousand products per hour.

9. The agent of the action

Despite what your English Spanish teacher might tell you, passive voice is very common in everyday language. The preposition por helps us activate passing language, taking the role of the adverb “by” in English. Here are some examples:

Spanish English
Esta pasta fue cocinada por un chef italiano. This pasta was cooked by an Italian chef.
Esas becas son aprovechadas por miles de estudiantes. Those scholarships are used by thousands of students.
El metro es utilizado por millones de personas al día. The subway is used by millions of people each day.
Ese monumento fue obsequiado por el gobierno de Francia. That monument was gifted by the French government.

10. Idiomatic expressions

Finally, there are many idiomatic expressions that use the preposition por in Spanish. Some of them fall into one of the categories above, but most of them don’t, so you’ll have to memorize the expression with the appropriate preposition. Here are some of the most common expressions with the preposition por:

Spanish English Example sentence English
Por ahora For now Bueno, por ahora no nos vamos a preocupar por eso. Okay, we are not going to worry about that for now.
Por fortuna Luckily Por fortuna, no nos vio el oficial. Fortunately, the police officer didn’t see us.
Por lo menos At least Por lo menos no vas a tener que volver a tomar el examen. At least you won’t have to retake the test.
Por casualidad By chance No sé cómo nos conocimos, pero estoy seguro que no fue por casualidad. I don’t know how we met, but I’m sure it wasn’t by chance.
Por cierto By the way Por cierto, no olvides que mañana es cumpleaños de mi mamá. By the way, don’t forget that tomorrow is my mom’s birthday.
Por ejemplo For example Todos tenemos nuestros talentos. Por ejemplo, tú eres buena en matemáticas y yo en idiomas. We all have our talents. For example, you’re good at math and I’m good at languages.
Por desgracia Unfortunately Voy a tener que trabajar todo el fin de semana, por desgracia. I’m going to have to work all weekend, unfortunately.
Por poco Almost ¡Cuidado! Por poco y te pega ese auto. Watch out! You almost got hit by that car.
Por otra parte On the other hand Creo que el trabajo duro es indispensable pero, por otra parte, también es importante descansar. I think that hard work is indispensable but, on the other hand, it’s also important to rest.
Por eso That’s why Mi mamá nos enseñó a ser muy precavidos, por eso siempre llevo paraguas a donde sea que voy. My mom taught us to be forehanded, that’s why I always carry an umbrella wherever I go.
Por favor Please Pásame la sal, por favor. Pass me the salt, please.
Por suerte Luckily No sabía que hoy había examen, pero, por suerte, sí me siento preparado. I didn’t know there was a test today, but, luckily, I do feel prepared.
Por si acaso Just in case Voy a traer dinero extra, por si acaso. I’m going to bring extra money, just in case.
Por fin Finally ¡Por fin voy a conocer Sudamérica! I’m finally going to visit South America!
Por supuesto Of course Por supuesto que eres bienvenido cuando sea. Of course you’re always welcome.

When to use para

The preposition para has fewer uses than the preposition por, but that doesn’t make it any less common. You’ll want to make sure you’re just as skilled at using both prepositions as they’re both extremely common in Spanish.

However, if you are looking for a shortcut, you might want to memorize the times when to use para, as they are far fewer than those for por. That way, you’ll know to use para if you’re dealing with a situation that calls for it. In all other cases, simply use por!

Here are five situations when to use para.

Por vs. Para: When & how to use them & fun practice questions (3)

1. For a destination or objective

If por is used to talk about movement, then para is used to talk about the destination. Use this for those situations where the destination is the most important part, not the way you get there.

Spanish English
Ya salí para la casa. I just left on my way home.
Mañana tomo un vuelo para Los Ángeles. Tomorrow I’m taking a flight to Los Angeles.
Prepárate para el examen de mañana. Get ready for tomorrow’s test.
Hay que comer sano para poder entrenar duro. You have to eat healthy so you can train hard.

2. To define a purpose

As we’ve mentioned earlier in the article, para is forward-looking. It doesn’t look at the reason why an action was initiated, but rather the goal behind initiating said action. For example, take a look at the following two sentences:

  • Voy a ir a Miami por trabajo. (I am going to Miami for work) Here, the preposition por implies that work is the reason why you’re going to Miami. Maybe you’re meeting a client there or are attending a conference, but you have a pre-existing work relationship that caused you to go to Miami.
  • Voy a ir a Miami para trabajar. (I am going to Miami to work) Here, the preposition para implies that work is the goal behind going to Miami. In other words, you’re hoping to work in Miami, as in finding work there.

Here are a few more examples of this:

Spanish English
Necesitas tomates para la pasta. You need tomatoes for the pasta.
¿Ya tienes botas para la nieve? Do you already have boots for the snow?
¿Dónde está la tabla para picar? Where’s the cutting board?
Voy a comprar un gorro para nadar. I’m going to buy a swimming cap.

3. To define a time limit

While the preposition por is used to talk about approximate time, para is used for specific deadlines. This is used similarly to the prepositions “by” and “until” in English, as they help us talk about how long until something happens or is due. Here are some examples:

Spanish English
Faltan diez para las doce. It’s 10 to twelve.
Tenemos que entregar el reporte para el viernes. We have to turn in the report by Friday.
No te preocupes, ya lo habré terminado para entonces. Don’t worry, I will have finished it by then.
Todavía faltan 12 días para mayo. It’s still 12 days until May.

4. For comparisons

The preposition para is used to make comparisons between an individual identity of a noun and the average of the rest. English has this same construction, such as “For an introvert, you’re pretty talkative!” Here are some examples in Spanish:

Spanish English
Cocina muy bien la carne para ser vegetariano. He cooks meat very well for a vegetarian.
Una ciudad de tres millones es bastante pequeña para un país como China. A city of three million is pretty small for a country like China.
Nadar es más fácil para ti que para mí. Swimming is easier for you than for me.
La honestidad es muy importante para él, puesto que es un juez. Honesty is very important for him, given that he’s a judge.

5. For idiomatic expressions

As with por, there are a number of idiomatic expressions that go with para. You’ll have to memorize them as well, but, fortunately, there aren’t nearly as many idiomatic expressions with para. Here are four of the most common.

Spanish English Example sentence English
Estar para bromas To be in a joking mood Ahorita no, Juan, no estoy para bromas. Not now, Juan, I’m not in a joking mood.
Ser para tanto To be a big deal No te enojes, no creo que sea para tanto. Don’t be mad, I don’t think it’s a big deal.
Para colmo To make matters even worse Y para colmo, empezó a llover justo cuando salí del trabajo. And to make things worse, it started raining as soon as I got out of work.
Para terminar To conclude Para terminar, solo me gustaría darles las gracias a todos por venir. To conclude, I would just like to thank everybody for coming.

Verbs with por and para

Another neat way to learn whether to use por and para is to simply memorize the accompanying prepositions of some verbs. Many verbs can go with both por and para, but some of them only have one correct accompanying preposition. These can be easy wins, as you won’t have to think about a slew of rules and guidelines when figuring out which preposition to use.

Por vs. Para: When & how to use them & fun practice questions (4)

Verbs with por

There are dozens of verbs that can only be accompanied by the preposition por, and below we’ve gathered a list of some of the most common. Look through the list and see if any of these are verbs you use frequently — or any you think might come in handy. That way, you’ll know exactly which ones to prioritize!

Spanish English Example sentence English
Castigar por To punish for Me van a castigar por no hacer la tarea a tiempo. I’m going to get punished for not doing my homework on time.
Caracterizarse por To characterize by Este restaurante se caracteriza por su destacado servicio al cliente. This restaurant is characterized by its distinguished customer service level.
Cambiar por To exchange for Tengo que encontrar una casa de cambio para cambiar mis euros por pesos. I have to find a currency exchange so I can exchange my euros for pesos.
Clasificar por To classify by Las películas en esta plataforma de streaming están clasificadas por calificación de usuario. The movies in this streaming platform are classified by user rating.
Dar las gracias por To thank for Por favor dale las gracias a tu mamá por la deliciosa cena. Please thank your mom for such a delicious dinner.
Decidirse por To decide for Todavía no me decido por qué auto comprar. I still haven’t decided which car to buy.
Esforzarse por To strive for Recuerda, siempre y cuando te esfuerces por hacer el mejor trabajo, nunca tendrás nada de qué arrepentirte. Remember, as long as you strive for doing your best, you’ll never have anything to be remorseful for.
Felicitar por To congratulate for ¡Te llamo para felicitarte por tu graduación! I’m calling to congratulate you for your graduation!
Interesarse por To be interested in Desde pequeño, siempre se ha interesado por cuidar a todos los animales. From when he was little, he’s always been interested in taking care of all animals.
Ir por To go for Creo que vamos a ir por una ronda final para terminar la competencia. I think we’re going to go for a final round before we finish the tournament.
Luchar por To fight for Martha siempre ha luchado por los derechos del medio ambiente. Martha has always fought for environmental rights.
Llorar por To cry over Trata de no llorar por platos rotos. Try not to cry over broken plates. (Not to cry over spilled milk)
Matarse por To kill oneself for No te mates por estudiar, al final del día tu salud es mucho más importante. Don’t kill yourself studying, at the end of the day your health is much more important.
Morirse por To die for Hace tanto calor, me muero por llegar a casa y tomar un jugo bien helado. It’s so hot, I’m dying to get home and drink an ice-cold juice.
Ofenderse por To be offended by No le hagas caso, no debes ofenderte por algo que alguien que no te conoce dijo. Don’t listen to him, you shouldn’t be offended by something that someone who doesn’t know you said.
Optar por To opt for Creo que voy a optar por quedarme en casa este fin de semana en vez de salir de fiesta. I think I’m going to opt for staying home this week instead of partying.
Pasar por To pass for No creo que Lucía pueda pasar por menor de 12, ¡ya casi cumple 17 años! I don’t think Lucia can pass for a twelve year old, she’s almost 17!
Preocuparse por To worry about No sirve de nada preocuparse por cosas que aún no suceden. It’s not helpful to worry about things that haven’t happened yet.
Preguntar por To ask about Me marcó Juan y me preguntó por ti. Juan called me and asked me about you.
Terminar por To end up (doing something) Creo que vamos a terminar por quedarnos dormidos antes de decidir a dónde ir. I think we’re gonna end up falling asleep before we decide where to go.
Votar por To vote for Recuerda votar por tu partido favorito antes del primero de Julio. Remember to vote for your favorite party before July 1st.

Verbs with para

As you’re probably used to by now, there are fewer verbs that go exclusively with para. Here are some of the most common ones:

Spanish English Example sentence English
Arreglárselas para To manage to Por alguna razón, Susana siempre se las arregla para ser la primera en salir del salón. For some reason, Susana always manages to be the first one to leave the classroom.
Autorizar para To authorize El acceso a ese cuarto está restringido a personal autorizado para realizar cirugías. Access to that room is restricted to personnel authorized to perform surgeries.
Clasificarse para To qualify for Necesitamos ganar dos partidos más para poder clasificar para la final. We need to win two more matches in order to qualify for finals.
Prepararse para To prepare for ¿Quieres venir a mi casa a estudiar? Un par de amigos y yo nos vamos a preparar para el examen de la próxima semana. Do you want to come study at my house? A couple of friends and I are going to prepare for next week’s exam.
Servir para To serve (a purpose) Este dispositivo sirve para aromatizar cualquier espacio. This device serves to aromatize any room.
Trabajar para To work for Trabajo para una compañía holandesa de tecnología del medio ambiente. I work for a Dutch eco-friendly tech company.
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