What is the difference between 'por' and 'para'?

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Although both these words can mean 'for' in English, the variations of translations mean 'por' and 'para' have very distinct uses. Although confusing at first, it is very easy to learn when to use each correctly.

 

POR: 

- Used to mean 'through', 'along', 'by', or 'in the area of'. In the same way, it can be used to show means of transport or communication.

No pasa el tren por la ciudad. The train doesn't go through the city.

Suele viajar por tren. He usually travels by train. 

Hablamos por teléfono todos los dias. We talk on the phone every day. 

- 'On behalf of' (I bought it for her because she was unable to do so), or 'in favour of' (in terms of voting in an election, for example). 

La compré algo leche. I bought her some milk. 

- To express a length of time/undetermined length (meaning ‘during’)

Estudié por dos horas. I studied for two hours.

Por la noche no hay nadie en la calle. During the night nobody is in the street.

- Cause or reason (‘because of’)

Trabajo por el dinero. I work for the money.

-  Exchange, for example with money

Lo compré por tres euros. I bought it for three euros.

 

PARA:

Destination

Mis padres salieron para Italia. My parents left for Italy

- Use or purpose of something – ‘in order to’, ‘for the purpose of’

Lo uso para limpiar los suelos. I use it to clean the floors.

Recipient

Esta carta es para ti. This letter is for you.

- Deadline, specific time point

Lo necesito para miércoles. I need it for Wednesday

 

A simple, general way to remember the difference is that you could say 'por' expresses the means by which you achieve something, and 'para' expresses the final action. 

Kate P. A Level Spanish tutor, GCSE Spanish tutor

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