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Por and para

Is there an absolute rule for the use of "por" and "para"? I thought I had it, but I am getting it wrong again and again. Also "por" seems to crop up after verbs without there being a directly translatable connection. Is there a rule for "de", "a", "por" and "con", among others, in that situation, or do you just need to learn it verb by verb?

May 10, 2018



There is no absolute rule, especially if you think in direct translations to another language. Native speakers make a clear distinction (we make mistakes in our language, but "por" and "para" aren't an issue*) but it is hard to explain even in Spanish. However, there are trends, "para" is like an arrow (target, objective, intention), "por" is like a bridge (mean, tool, way, method).

  • Except for "Latinos para Trump", it should have been "Latinos por Trump". We suspected that the creators of that group were not totally fluent in Spanish.



This is not an easy thing to learn first thing, but you will get the hang of it soon. Here are some examples, so you can understand more clearly the difference in the uses and the situations for each.

-If I say, "Estoy buscando un abrigo por Maria," that means that I am looking for a coat on behalf of Maria. And yet, if I replaced the "por" with "para" here, it would mean that I was looking for a coat for her (to give, as a gift or such). Here, the difference is whether you are doing something for someone else, or getting something for someone else.

-If I say, "Viajamos para Rusia," it would mean "we are travelling to Russia." But if I used "por," it would signify that I was travelling through or throughout Russia. (The same goes for portals...if you go through a door or by a house, you will use "por.") In this case, "por" is for going in somewhere, and "para" is used about the destination.

-If I say, "La tarea es para el martes," then the homework is for Tuesday. But if I were to use "por" in the sentence, "Estaba buscando por cinco horas," it would mean that I was looking for 5 hours. So, in this case, the argument is a when usage (deadline) with the word "para," and a time usage for the word "por."

I hope this helps!


Excellent explanation. Are you a native speaker or an ESOL teacher? Thanks for the reasoning.

Tried to give a lingot, but once again, the program won’t let me. I’ll try again later. There should be some reward for being so helpful.


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Hi Catherine!

It's funny that you are asking; I'm not a native speaker, as I began to learn Spanish at 9. I sometimes think and dream in Spanish...I am not an ESL teacher by any stretch, but I am thinking of delving into such an endeavor when I travel to Russia as a means of extra income.

Apologies, that my reply took so long! Thank you for being so kind; that is lovely of you :).


Hello! Thanks for the reply. Just curious, what is your first language? Once upon a time, I was a Spanish student. My mother thought it was important to know Spanish living in Florida. I started at 4 years old through college. For a while, I lived with a Cuban family. I was thinking and dreaming in Spanish. Time went by, my connections to the Spanish community disappeared- so did my language acquisition. Now , a Cuban family lives in my mother’s home. They enjoy my vocabulary and grammar mistakes. I would never tell, but your explanation of por and para beat theirs by a mile. Gracias! Have a nice weekend!


Oh, such immersion would be very nice....

My first language was English. I'm assuming it is the same for you? Or no?

I hope your weekend is also lovely ;).


Thank you very much for the help, both Lauriana and Chilotin. I like the distance idea and how por seems to relate more to the internal and para to the external activity in relation the adjacent noun. I shall try this out and see if it provides me with a better system.


De nada, Gordon! I would like to add to you, this: In Spain, they do not say (We go) para (place). That is a Latin American usage, and not so common, and yet the only thing in my head when I wrote...Just remember this. But I think you were able to see clearly my general meaning of the difference in that example ;).

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