Por and para: a quick guide

When to use “para” and “por”? This is one of the headaches of students of Spanish.

You might have seen many long lists with the different uses of “para” and “por”, and you might wonder if there is a quicker way to remember all of them.

And the answer is yes, there is. Let me explain.

Por and para

This rule doesn’t work for all the uses of por and para, but generally speaking, we can say that:

  • Para is related to a final objective
  • Por is related to the process

Let us see some examples:

Por and para: time

  • Para is used for deadlines: los deberes son para mañana (the homework is to be done by tomorrow).
  • Por is used for an approximate time: miro la televisión por la noche (I watch television at night).

We use para for a deadline, a kind of final objective, the end of the action of doing the homework. Whereas we use por  for an approximate time, more related to the process of watching tv.

Para and por: place

  • Para is used for destination: este tren va para Valencia (this train is going to Valencia).
  • Por is used for an approximate place: el cine está por el centro de la ciudad (the cinema is somewhere in the city center).

Here we use para for a destination, which is a kind of final objective, the end of the trip; while por is an approximate place.

Cause vs purpose

  • Para is used for a purpose: aprendo español para viajar (I learn Spanish to travel).
  • Por is used for a cause: gracias por el regalo (thank you for the present).

We use para for a purpose, that is, the objective of learning Spanish is to travel. On the other hand, we use por for a cause. The reason why I say thanks is because you gave me a present.

There are more uses of para and por. All of them do not fit into the rule of “final objective” vs “process”, but, as you can see, many of them do follow the rule.

I have prepared a cheatsheet with all the uses (the ones mentioned in this post, and a few more). You can print it and use it as a cheatsheet, stick to your notebook, or bend it as accordion and keep it in the pocket (see pictures below).