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Along with ser and estar, one of the most common Spanish grammar difficulties that drive students crazy is knowing how to tell the difference between por and para.
In our experience, the trouble arises due to two main problems:
We’ll help you overcome these common stumbling blocks so you can clearly understand when to use por and para and how your choice can change the meaning of the sentence. Click here to read this post in Spanish.
Por indicates the cause
The preposition por is used to point to the cause, motive, or reason of an action, the “why” behind it. Let’s see some examples:
[ por + noun ] Luis se ha mudado a Barcelona por trabajo.
(Luis moved to Barcelona for work.)
[ por + pronoun ] He preparado una paella por ti.
(He prepared a paella for you.)
[ por + infinitive ] Ha perdido el trabajo por llegar tarde.
(He lost his job because he arrived late.)
Para indicates the purpose
Para is used to indicate the purpose or objective of an action. For example:
[ para + infinitive ] Me he levantado más temprano para llegar a tiempo.
I got up earlier in order to arrive on time.
[ para que + subjunctive ] He comprado arroz para que prepares una paella.
I bought rice for you to make a paella.
[ para + noun ] Ya tengo las entradas para la película.
I already have the tickets for the movie.
Comparing por and para
It can get complicated when we have an action that can be both the cause and the purpose of another main action. In these cases, it’s important that we clearly understand the meaning we want to give our sentence before we decide whether to use por or para. Here are some examples:
Ana ha ido a Madrid por trabajo. (Ana went to Madrid for work).
Work was the cause of Ana’s trip to Madrid. For example, she had a meeting there.
Ana ha ido a Madrid para trabajar. (Ana went to Madrid to work.)
Work was the objective of Ana’s trip to Madrid. For example, she went to look for a job there.
He hecho gazpacho por ti. (I made gazpacho for you.)
I made the food because I know you like it. You are the reason, the cause.
He hecho gazpacho para ti. (I made gazpacho for you.)
I made the food so that you will eat it. You are the recipient of the action.
When we ask a question, we have to know if we’re asking about the cause (por qué or why) or the purpose (para qué or for what). Often, when we ask por qué (cause), the answer can refer to the cause (por, porque) or the objective (para), and vice versa. For example:
¿Por qué vas a estudiar español en don Quijote?
(Why are you going to study Spanish at don Quijote?)
(Cause) Porque tengo un examen en mi país y necesito ayuda.
(Because I have an exam in my home country and I need help.)
(Purpose) Para hacer el DELE la próxima convocatoria.
(In order to take the upcoming DELE exam.)
¿Para qué vas a hacer el DELE?
(What are you taking the DELE for?)
(Cause) Porque quiero obtener la nacionalidad española.
(Because I want to get Spanish nationality.)
(Purpose) Para matricularme en un máster en una universidad española.
(To enroll in a master’s program at a Spanish university.)
Por, backwards. Para, forwards.
From a cognitive perspective, we can say that the cause (por) is behind the main action (it pushes or motivates the action from behind), while the purpose (para) is in front of the action, like the dangling carrot that makes the donkey walk forward.
por + cause >>>>>>>>>> main action
main action >>>>>>>>>> para + purpose
That pretty much sums it up! To get more por and para practice, sign up for one of our Spanish courses in Spain and Latin America. Between getting help from our experienced teachers and listening to how people talk as you experience everyday life in Spanish, you’ll be an expert on por and para before you know it.
A special thanks to Jose Ramón from our school in Malaga for writing this quick and easy por vs. para guide.