Before we start discussing the difference between these two Spanish words let’s review what a preposition is and what it is used for in the English language.
What is a Preposition?
A preposition is a function word typically followed by an object, noun, noun phrase or pronoun. It is used to indicate time, introduce an object or show direction and location.
In English, some of the most common ones include: at, about, by, in, on, of, to, for, from, with, up, above, below, beside, before, inside, outside, etc. You get the picture right?
The first way to identify them is by thinking of them as pointers of relationships between two words or two phrases, linking them together. Prepositions often indicate a relationship of time, direction, and location.
Some prepositions may work as adverbs (qualifying the action):
Example: Shake it off
Others may work as conjunctions:
Example: I haven’t seen him since mom’s funeral.
As it was mentioned before, in the English language it is very common to see them as elements that describe places, movement, position, or timing.
- I will meet you outside the box office tonight.
- My flight leaves at 11:00 a.m.
- She arrived with Laurie after he had gone.
- You left the keys on the desk.
- We were walking towards the Eiffel tower when we saw the fire.
Spanish prepositions are used in a very similar way to the ones in English. They can connect words, clauses or phrases.
There are 23 words listed as prepositions by the Royal Academy for the Spanish Language (Real Academia de la Lengua Española).
Every Mexican has to memorize these during primary school in alphabetical order. Here is the list so you can do the same!
A full list of Spanish prepositions:
|SPANISH PREPOSITION||ENGLISH MEANING|
|1. A||To, at, by, for|
|2. Ante||Before, in the presence of|
|7. De||Of, from|
|8. Desde||From, since|
|10. En||In, on, at|
|11. Entre||Between, among, amongst|
|15. Para||For, in order to, by, to|
|16. Por||For, by, through, because of, per|
|17. Según||According to|
|20. Sobre||On top, about|
|21. Tras||After, behind|
As you can see from this beautiful collection of linking words, prepositions are able to connect nouns to nouns, verbs to verbs, verbs to nouns, and verbs to pronouns.
- Noun to noun: Plato de carnes frías. -> A plate of cold meats.
- Verb to verb: Comienza a trabajar desde temprano en la mañana. -> Starts working since early in the morning.
- Verb to noun: Viaja por Madrid en autobús. -> Travels through Madrid by bus.
- Verb to pronoun: ¿Vendrás con ellos para almorzar? -> Will you come with them to have lunch?
Finally, please note that prepositions in Spanish don’t change. There is no concordance between number and gender; this means that there isn’t a singular, plural, masculine or feminine version for each preposition.
Por vs Para
What is the difference between ‘por’ and ‘para’? Quite often there is confusion concerning the Spanish prepositions ‘para’ and ‘por’.
- POR: It commonly means “for”, “by”, “through”, “because of”, “per” and “via” to indicate possession, medium, cause, or conditioning.
- PARA: It commonly appears as ‘by’, ‘to’, and ‘for’ to indicate time, purpose, and motion.
To clarify their meanings we must review their usages. You must need to identify the situations that call for one or another!
How to use the Spanish Preposition ‘Por’?
- To indicate the person who performs the action in a passive sentence:
Example: Hecho por mí. -> Made by me.
- To specify the transit through a particular geographical area. In this instance, ‘por’ appears before the name of the place:
Example: Paseaba por Andalucía. -> I was strolling through Andalucía.
- To show a multiplication:
Example: Tres por cuatro. -> Three times four.
- To denote a body part or a specific place:
Example: La bala entró por el pulmón derecho. -> The bullet entered through the right lung.
- To talk about a season or something that happens around some time or some place:
Example: Por invierno las mariposas monarcas emigran por varios estados de la República Mexicana. -> Around Winter, Monarch butterflies migrate through several states of the Mexican Republic.
To describe someone’s particular condition, meaning as “in the role of”:
Example: Juan, ¿aceptas por esposa a Magdalena? -> Juan, do you take Magdalena as your wife?
- To designate the cause of a circumstance:
- Cerrado por vacaciones de verano. -> Closed for Summer vacations. (The shop is closed because of the Summer holidays.)
- Lo agarraron por andar en la manifestación. -> They captured him for being at the demonstration.
- To define how something is done (the medium that is used or the way the action is performed):
- Ana habló por teléfono con su novio y se escuchó por toda la casa. -> Ana spoke to her boyfriend on the phone and everyone could hear her around the house (because she was speaking too loud).
- Por la vía de la paz. –> Through the peaceful way.
- Por vía legal. -> By law or through the legal system.
To represent a quantity or price (as in how much):
- ¿Por cuánto compraste la casa? -> How much did you pay for the house?
- ¿Por cuánto tiempo esperaste? -> How long did you wait?
- No por mucho tiempo. -> Not for too long.
- ¿Por cuánto perdieron? -> How much did they lose by?
To talk about something you are in favor of, willing to defend, or against to.
- Por mi bandera yo daría mi vida. -> I would give my life for my flag (country).
- Por ese hombre mentiroso no voy a llorar. -> For that lier of a man, I will not cry.
- Haría Cualquier cosa por mis hijos. -> I would do anything for my kids.
To compare two similar things
- Ciudad por ciudad, Inglaterra tiene la capital más vanguardista. -> City by city, England has the most avant-garde capital.
- Euro por euro, te sale mejor ir al tianguis en lugar de ir al súpermercado. -> Euro for euro, it is better to go to the street market instead of going to the supermarket. (Meaning that the prices are lower at the street market compared to the ones at the supermarket).
To distribute a total quantity amongst a number of people/items or to describe a percentage:
- Al cien por ciento. -> At one hundred percent.
- Nos toca de a $100 por cabeza. -> This expression has no literal translation but it means that each person (noted as ‘cabeza’) has to pay or contribute one hundred pesos.
- Son 6 aguacates por kilo. -> There are 6 avocados per kilo.
To pronounce a substitution or exchange:
- Le dieron gato por liebre. -> This expression has no literal translation either, but it means something similar to “pull the wool over someone’s eyes” and is used to say that someone is trying to deceive another.
- La ciudad tiene a un bandido por gobernador. -> The City has a bandit as it’s governor. (Meaning that the politician is a gangster instead of an honest representative).
- Te cambio mi agua por tu cerveza. -> I’ll trade you my wáter for your beer.
To specify that an action is unfinished, pending or about to happen.
- Carlos está por graduarse. -> Carlos is about to graduate.
- Eso está por verse. -> This expression means “We’ll see!”. Assuming that when that happens (in the immediate future) it would prove the speaker right or wrong.
- Las ventanas quedan por lavarse. -> The windows remain to be cleaned.
To point out that someone will bring something:
Example: Eduardo irá por leña para la chimenea. -> Eduardo will get some wood for the fireplace.
To ask “Why?”
Example: ¿Por qué te fuiste? -> Why did you leave?
Por vs Para Practice
Look at the examples of the main uses of ‘por’ (with their English equivalents) and read out loud:
- For – I will be home for Christmas.
Estaré en casa por Navidades.
- By – I will get home by bus.
Llegaré a casa por autobús.
- Because of – I will get late home because of the train’s delay.
Llegaré tarde a casa por el retraso del tren.
- Through – I will cross through the fields to get home.
Cruzaré por los campos para llegar a casa.
- Per – I will build three homes per hectare.
Construiré tres casas por hectárea.
- Via – I will get home via the shortcut.
Llegaré a casa por el atajo.
How to use the Spanish Preposition ‘Para’?
- To indicate the agent as a person who will benefit from the action in a passive sentence.
Example: Hecho para mí -> Made for me.
- To ask “What for?”
Example: ¿Para qué conservas sus fotos? – What do you keep their photos for?
- To describe the purpose of an action:
Example: Trabajé muy duro para comprar mi primer auto. -> I worked really hard to buy my First car.
- To specify a dates and time limits of a task or target:
Example: Debe entregar la tarea para mañana. -> She has to deliver the homework for tomorrow.
- To talk about a place as a destination or endpoint of a trip:
Example: Vámonos para Europa. -> Let´s go to Europe.
- To indicate the beneficiary of an action, the recipient of a gift, or receiver of affection.
Example: La herencia del abuelo es para sus hijos. -> Grandad’s inheritance is for his children.
- To determine a good use of something (or to state the best possible option):
Example: Las alcachofas son buenas para el hígado. -> Artichokes are good for the liver.
Por vs Para Practice:
Look at the examples of the main uses of ‘para’ (with their English equivalents) and read out loud:
- For – I will be home for your birthday party.
Estaré en casa para tu fiesta de cumpleaños.
- By – I need the report by Friday morning.
Necesito el reporte para el viernes en la mañana.
- To – To me, you are the number one.
Para mí, tú eres el número uno.
- In order to – In order to approve your exam you need to study hard.
Para aprobar tu examen necesitas estudiar arduamente.
Por vs Para Quiz
In Summary, you may use ‘por’ to talk about roads, your travels, mediums of communications, locations, exchanges, substitutions, duration of events, quantities, percentages, and the causes of many circumstances.
On the contrary, you may use ‘para’ to talk about destinations (as where you are going to), the purpose of an action, name recipients, and to indicate deadlines and objectives.
Observe the use of each preposition in this complex example:
Viajamos para Pamplona por avión para la fiesta de San Fermín por cinco días. -> We travel to Pamplona by plane for San Fermin’s party for five days.
Study the following sentences; which one is correct?
- Voy a México por la autopista.
- Voy a México para la autopista.
- Compró un regalo para ti.
- Compró un regalo por ti.
- Las ventas han caído un diez para ciento.
- Las ventas han caído un diez por ciento.
Answers: a, a, b.
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