Mastering the differences between por and para can be a hard task for English speakers. These two seemingly simple words not only stand in for the preposition “for”, as in English, but include many other uses as well. The best way to learn the difference is to understand the rules and uses, and to memorize examples.
The preposition por has a variety of uses, many more than para. Here are some instances and examples in which por is used.
Cause or motive
Por is used to express the cause or reason for something.
El hombre murió por falta de agua.
The man died from lack of water.
We can use por to talk about frequency of an action, approximation of a period of time, or to talk about a specific part of the day.
Voy a nadar tres días por semana.
I go swimming three times a week.
Voy a clase por las mañanas.
I go to class in the mornings.
Iré a ver a mis padres por navidad.
I’m going to see my parents for Christmas.
Travel, setting and communication
Por can be used in regards to travelling and places as well as method of communication.
El bus pasa por Valencia.
The bus passes through Valencia.
¿Damos un paseo por el parque?
Let’s go for a walk in the park?
Angel vive por el centro.
Angel lives in the centre.
Hoy hablé con mi padres por teléfono.
Today I talked to my parents on the phone.
El libro fue escrito por Cervantes.
The book was written by Cervantes.
Price, exchange or substitution
¿Puedes escribir la carta por mí?
Can you write the letter for me?
Te cambio mi manzana por tu sandwich.
I’ll trade you my apple for your sandwich.
Me compré unos nuevos pantalones por 20€.
I bought myself some new pants for 20€.
Thank you or sorry
If we want to express gratitude or regret for something, we use por.
Gracias por la información.
Thanks for the information.
Lo siento por lo que pasó con tu perro.
I’m sorry for what happened to your dog.
Thankfully, there are fewer uses for the preposition para, so it may be easier to memorize these.
Purpose or objective
Para can mean “in order to”, “for the purpose of” or show the purpose of something.
El vaso es para agua.
The glass if for water.
Para ganar dinero, tienes que trabajar.
To make money, you have to work.
Tienes que entregar el proyecto para mañana.
You have to submit the project tomorrow.
Place or destination
Para is used to indicate where we are going.
¿Dónde vas? Voy para Madrid.
Where are you going? I’m going to Madrid.
Jorge compró flores para su novia.
Jorge bought flowers for his girlfriend.
We hope these explanations of the uses of por and para have been helpful. If you have any other grammar points that you find confusing and would like to know more about, mention them in the comments below!