Are you a master of disguise?
Can you pass as a native Spanish speaker?
Could you write with such great Spanish that even your Spanish teacher would be fooled?
If you have answered “yes” to all of these questions, congratulations!
Either you’re a one-in-a-billion student, or you’re pretty overconfident. Either way, best of luck to you, and why are you reading this, anyway? We have nothing left to teach you.
If you have answered “no” to at least one of these questions, I commend you on your honesty. Read on!
Chances are, if you are trying to pass as a native, one of three aspects of the Spanish language will trip you up as a non-native speaker: the subjunctive (a delicious nightmare), the imperfect versus preterite issue (a timeless problem) or the por vs para dilemma (also known as “Spanish Prepositional Hell,” or “How To Cry in Spanish Because of Two Little Words”).
This post will focus on that fun last bit, the por versus para issue that seems to trip up learners of any level.
After 18+ years of teaching Spanish, I have come to understand these two words are a real problem for students of Spanish. However, I have had literally dozens of students walk confidently to their C2 DELE exams and ace them without a problem.
Read on to learn all about when to use each word, then drill them into your memory with 20 common por and para expressions.
That’s right: You, too, can overcome these two prepositions!
So let’s start from the beginning. How and when should you use por and para?
Tips for Practicing Por vs Para to Perfection
- Do exercises and take quizzes. Practice makes perfect, and the more you practice these two prepositions, the better you’ll get at using them. Besides, exercises can be a quick fix if you don’t have a lot of time in your schedule. Just choose a couple of them, solve them and check your answers on the spot!
- Write down lots of por and para sentences. One of the best ways to remember por and para and use them like a native is to write lots of full sentences. When you have access to full sentences, you start seeing patterns and expressions that repeat themselves over and over, which will help you learn them faster.
- Create your own flashcards. Once you’ve written down your sentences, you can download an app and create your own personalized flashcards. This way, your por and para sentences will be with you all the time, and you can use them anywhere.
- Read a lot. Reading is a powerful way to learn Spanish. If you read the original Spanish version of books, or even bilingual books if you aren’t ready for that yet, you’ll see many examples of these two prepositions in context. Context is everything, and reading will give you plenty of real Spanish to gorge on.
- Listen to Spanish podcasts. Listening to native Spanish is another great way to practice por and para. These two prepositions are used very often, so you’ll hear them all the time. If you can, download or print the transcript of the podcast you’re listening to and mark all the places where por and para appear. Then analyze why they were used.
- Watch Spanish movies, series and YouTube videos. Watching any kind of video material with native Spanish in it will have a similar effect as listening to podcasts. Instead of printing the transcript, switch on the Spanish subtitles. Pause the video any time you see por and para if you aren’t sure why they were used. Analyze the sentence and try to figure out the reason.
- Try to use por and para whenever you can. Write in Spanish online chats, talk to friends in Spanish, talk to yourself in the mirror, etc. The possibilities for using Spanish in your daily life are endless! Use these two tricky words any time you can, and you’ll see that the more you use them, the more naturally they’ll come to you.
Por Versus Para in a Nutshell
Prepositions are super important both in Spanish and English.
Por and para are, along with a (to) and en (in, on), two of the most commonly used Spanish prepositions.
Although they are both mainly translated as “for,” they are really versatile and can be used to mean many different things.
Both English and Spanish have plenty of prepositions that can mean several different things, but I have never ever found an English preposition as versatile as por. If you do not believe me, have a look at the different translations the Pons Dictionary gives for this word.
The following is a list of the most important meanings and uses of both words:
Use por when:
- You want to indicate the reason for doing something. You can translate it as “because of,” in this case:
No ha venido por el mal tiempo. (He has not come because of the bad weather.)
- You want to talk about communication and travel:
Me contestó por email. (He answered me via/by email.)
Nunca he viajado por Polonia. (I have never traveled through Poland.)
- You need to state how long something goes on. This time the translation is the typical “for” that dictionaries give:
Estuve escribiendo por 3 horas. (I was writing for 3 hours.)
Bear in mind that, very often, the preposition por is substituted by durante (for, during) when talking about the length of an activity:
Estuve escribiendo durante 3 horas. (I was writing for 3 hours.)
- You want to refer to an exchange or transaction:
¿De verdad has pagado tanto por ese teléfono? (Have you really paid that much for that phone?)
Me dio su camiseta por mi camisa. (She gave me her T-shirt for my shirt.)
- One person substitutes or takes the place of another during a task:
Fui a ayudar por mi padre. (I went to help instead of/in place of my father.)
Hazlo por mí. (Do it for/instead of me.)
- You do something for someone out of love:
Todo esto es por ti. (All this is for you.)
Lo hago por nuestro amor. (I am doing it for our love.)
Use para when:
- You need to talk about the recipient of something:
Esto es para ti. (This is for you.)
Hemos comprado esto para María. (We have bought this for María.)
- You are referring to a destination or final point:
El tren para Lisboa sale en 3 minutos. (The train to Lisbon leaves in 3 minutes.)
Viajo para Colombia. (I am traveling to Colombia.)
- You want to talk about goals and purpose:
Hemos venido para almorzar contigo. (We have come to have lunch with you.)
Lo hago para sentirme mejor conmigo mismo. (I am doing it to feel better about myself.)
- You want to give your opinion or talk about someone else’s opinion:
Para mí, esta casa es muy pequeña. (For me, this house is very small.)
Para mi madre, eso es muy peligroso. (According to my mother, that is very dangerous.)
- You have to talk about or discuss a deadline:
Lo necesito para el lunes. (I need it for Monday.)
El informe estará listo para la semana que viene. (The report will be ready for next week.)
If you follow these rules, you will have done most of the work.
You can hear these two little words in use by browsing FluentU’s authentic videos.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the Spanish language and culture over time. You’ll learn Spanish as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of videos topics, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts. You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used.
Plus, if you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.
Review a complete interactive transcript under the Dialogue tab, and find words and phrases listed under Vocab.
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s robust learning engine. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re studying with the same video.
It’s an entertaining way to immerse yourself in Spanish the way native speakers really use it, while actively building your vocabulary.
Of course, there will be times when these rules will seem to be broken or lack sense altogether. Many times, as also happens in English, you will find an expression in Spanish that requires memorization because it makes no sense if you translate it literally.
But do not panic yet! I have made a list of the most common por and para Spanish expressions so that you do not have to look for them by yourself.
Por Versus Para: 20 Spanish Expressions to Enrich Your Everyday Convos
Every language has useful expressions that we use every day that make our conversations richer. Spanish is not an exception, and por and para are two prepositions that appear quite often in them.
The following is a list with the most common por and para expressions with their translations and examples of use.
Spanish Expressions That Use Por
1. por ahora (so far, for the time being, for now)
This expression is as common in Spanish as it is in English. There is a little difference, however: While English speakers tend to add it at the end of a sentence, Spanish speakers usually start sentences with it:
Por ahora, todo está controlado. (Everything is under control for the time being.)
2. por completo (completely, absolutely)
This time, it is the Spanish expression that likes to be at the end of the sentence:
Se le olvidó por completo. (He completely forgot about it.)
3. por ejemplo (for example)
This one is pretty easy. As a fun fact, I can tell you its abbreviation is p.ej.
Juan y Pedro, por ejemplo. (Juan and Pedro, for example.)
4. por favor (please)
I am sure you already know this expression since it is one of the easiest and most basic in Spanish.
Ayúdame, por favor. (Help me, please.)
5. por fin (finally, at last)
Just as it happens in English, you can use this as a standalone sentence:
¡Has vuelto! ¡Por fin! (You are back! At last!)
6. por lo menos (at least)
While this expression can really go anywhere in a sentence, I love using it at the end for some reason:
Necesito tres por lo menos. (I need three at least.)
7. por lo visto (apparently)
It is very curious that the literal translation of this expression is “for what has been seen.”
Por lo visto, él le ha sido infiel. (Apparently, he has cheated on her.)
8. por si acaso (just in case)
I recommend that you learn all these expressions by heart, por si acaso!
Vamos a volver por si acaso. (Let’s go back, just in case.)
9. por supuesto (sure, of course)
I love this expression because it can be modified by que sí and que no, which makes the sentences so much stronger:
¿Me quieres? ¡Por supuesto que sí! (Do you love me? Of course I do!)
¡Por supuesto que no lo haré! (Of course I will not do it!)
10. ¿por qué? porque… (why? because…)
A few months ago I wrote a long post about the four Spanish porques. Here is one example:
¿Por qué lloras? Porque estoy triste. (Why are you crying? Because I am sad.)
11. gracias por (thanks for)
I have included this expression because I have heard gracias para thousands of times already. Always say gracias por, no matter what you are thankful for:
Gracias por todo, mamá. (Thanks for everything, mum.)
Spanish Expressions with Para
12. para colmo (to top it all)
More often than not, you will see this expression preceded by the word y (and):
Llegó tarde y, para colmo, no pidió disculpas. (He arrived late and, to top it all, he did not apologize.)
13. para empezar (for starters)
Pay attention to the use of the infinitive after para in this expression. There is no other possibility, so try to remember it:
Para empezar, vamos a llamar a papá. (For starters, let’s call dad.)
14. para entonces (by then, by that time)
There are two tenses that like para entonces especially, the past perfect and the future perfect:
Ya había muerto para entonces. (He was dead by then.)
Para entonces ya habré terminado. (I will have already finished by then.)
15. para nada (not … at all)
This is a very versatile expression that can be used in almost any context. It normally appears in negative sentences and it follows a verb or precedes an adjective:
No me gusta para nada. (I do not like it at all.)
No es para nada lista. (She is not intelligent at all.)
16. para otra vez (for another time, for another day)
A favorite among procrastinators:
Dejémoslo para otra vez. (Let’s leave it for another time.)
17. para que / para qué (so that, in order to / what for)
These two expressions are a clear example of the power of the orthographic accent in Spanish. Tildes do not change the pronunciation of a word at all, but sometimes they help us differentiate between two meanings when we see the words written.
Have a look a this in action:
Lo hice para que vinieras. (I did it so that you would come.)
Dime para qué has venido. (Tell me what have you come for.)
18. para siempre (forever)
This is one of my personal favorites, probably because I am a romantic:
Quiero estar contigo para siempre. (I want to be with you forever.)
19. para variar (as usual, just for a change)
Normally used ironically, this expression is a must if someone’s behavior is starting to bother you too much:
Has vuelto a mentir, para variar. (You have lied again, just for a change.)
20. estar para (to be about to)
Estar para is always followed by an infinitive. However, you have to remember to conjugate estar in the right tense depending on the context:
Estaba para salir cuando llamaste. (I was about to go out when you called.)
Estoy para irme. ¿Necesitas algo? (I am about to go. Do you need anything?)
Where to Practice Por vs Para
You know the theory. Now you need a little bit of practice.
If you are looking for exercises and quizzes on Spanish por and Spanish para, you will love the following websites.
This is a superb 40-question por vs para quiz that will help you assess your knowledge in no time. Every time you answer a question, you get instant feedback and a grammar explanation.
El Zonte Spanish School
This test will tell you right away if you have answered a question correctly (Correcto) or incorrectly (Incorrecto). You will get a score at the end of the test, but no grammar explanations.
You will find three por vs para quizzes (some questions are repeated) for intermediate students (level B1) here. You get a score at the end of each test, but no explanations.
Spanish to Learn Free
In this link, you will find a ton of exercises on Spanish por and para and many other Spanish prepositions you may be learning. There are different kinds of exercises, and their difficulty is marked with yellow stars, from one (easy) to three (difficult).
If you are looking for quizzes, tests and oral exercises covering por and para, this resource is perfect. Submit your answers to get your score and see what you did wrong. You will get tips for the incorrect answers. I recommend you register to the site if you want to be able to access all of the goodies.
Here you will find a quick, little test to practice por and para. It doesn’t include any grammar info, but it tells you where you made a mistake.
Spanish New York
This is an amazing resource that includes 245 por and para sentences. If you make a mistake, you will get a short explanation. You can check your average score at all times.
A Green Mouse
I love this cute resource to practice por and para. It lets you download the .pdf version of the exercises. You also have access to some grammar explanations, a video on the topic and a final quiz (access the quiz through the Por and Para Grammar + Video link).
If you are looking for a super quick, 10-question test on por and para, look no further. It doesn’t include grammar explanations.
If you enjoy learning with flashcards, Quizlet is the way to go. There are plenty of decks to choose from. Some contain grammar tidbits, others include exercises and some of them, both!
And that’s all, folks!
I am sure this post will come in handy whether you are starting your adventure in the Spanish language or you are an advanced student who needs to review the basics.
I know this topic tends to be very stressful, especially for first-timers, but remember that it is not impossible to master it.
And as always, happy learning!
English professor and freelance translator, Francisco loves teaching and writing about grammar. A freak of languages, you can normally find him learning a new language, teaching students or just reading in a foreign language. He has been writing for FluentU for seven years and has recently become one of their Staff Writers.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.