Best Way to Understand "Por" and "Para" (Never Confuse Them Again!)

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Confusing “por” with “para” in Spanish is like confusing a plate of spaghetti with one of fettuccine: they are similar, but different.

Por and para are prepositions (connectors between the parts of a sentence) that fulfill very specific functions in the language and, once you learn to differentiate them, you will not confuse them again.

Por vs Para: The Cause Vs The Purpose

On the one hand, we have a por, a preposition whose main function is to express the cause or reason for an action; and, on the other hand, we have a para, which serves to indicate the purpose or purpose of an action. 

Thus, a simple way to determine if you should use por or para is to determine if what you are trying to express is the cause of what is happening, or if it is the purpose.

  • Me desperté por el ruido que has hecho con la aspiradora (la causa de que me haya despertado es el ruido que has hecho con la aspiradora).
  • Salgo a correr todas las mañanas para mantenerme en forma (el propósito por el cual salgo a correr todas las mañanas es mantener en forma).

Other Uses Of “Por”

In addition to serving as a connector to express the cause of an action, por is used to express both measures of time, space or place, indeterminate:

  • Vamos a vernos el viernes por la noche (un tiempo o momento indeterminado).
  • Nos fuimos a dar una vuelta por el centro de Buenos Aires (un lugar indeterminado).

To indicate the medium or channel through which something happens, or a place of passage:

  • ¡Están pasando el final de Juego de Tronos por HBO! (medio o canal).
  • Pasamos por McDonald’s de camino al estadio (lugar de paso).

To report a distribution or periodicity measure:

  • El menú incluye un aperitivo por persona (medida de distribución).
  • Miro Netflix 15 horas por semana (medida de periodicidad).

To express an exchange:

  • Messi se pasó al PSG por cuarenta millones de euros por temporada (primero expreso el intercambio, luego una medida de tiempo indeterminada).

Finally, por is used to introduce the agent complement in a passive sentence (don’t worry, it’s simpler than it seems):

  • La película “El Poder del Perro” fue protagonizada por Benedict Cumberbatch.

Other uses of “Para”

In turn, the preposition para fulfills other important functions, such as expressing the recipient of an action or an object:

  • El Oscar a mejor película es para Nomadland.
  • Las papas fritas son para mí.

To indicate a time frame:

  • Tenemos que haber aprendido todo esto para la semana que viene.

And to express the issuer of an opinion:

  • Para mí, no es lo mismo spaghetti que fettuccine, aunque, para ella, sí que lo es.

Conclusion

As you can see, the functions por and para fulfill are very specific and, when in doubt, a good exercise is to pose the sentence with both prepositions to see which best expresses what is being conveyed.

Many times, it can be complicated to define the difference between cause and purpose, but it is as simple as the following:

The reason “por” an action or situation is the cause; while the “para” is the purpose.

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