Por y para (The Bogotá Post)

Here’s my latest for The Bogotá Post, and this time it’s an original. I was asked to write something elucidating the different uses of por and para, but I only had 600 words to do so! So, feeling severely restricted on space, this was my best attempt at explaining these prepositions that make a lot of Spanish learners want to cry. The last thing I wanted to do was just rehash the same eternal lists found on every other website. I mean, we’ve all seen them, and if they did us any good we wouldn’t find ourselves continually tripping over por and para. I don’t know if it was even possible, but I tried my hardest to come up with something new and, hopefully, easy. Well, at least easier. Simplicity is golden! Instead of saying use por for A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, etc., I prefer to say use por for A,B,C, and, D (which all fall under category M); E, and F (which fall under category N); H; and I. There–four rules this time, not eight. I looked at every possible resource online and then tossed and turned while trying to think of new explanations and ways of organizing these ideas in my mind. Do these categories and subcategories make sense to you? Let me know if this helps you in any way! If I can get even one aha moment from even one reader, this post will have been worth every keystroke and pixel.

Also, there do exist a few other uses and constructions! For example, por mucho que + subjunctive (as much as . . . ), or estar por/para (to be about to do something), and others. These lists are not exhaustive, but will cover you in, oh, probably 95% of all situations.

And some uses that you’ll learn from a textbook just aren’t used here in Colombia. Maybe nowhere? They’ll tell you to use por for transportation (por avión, por barco, por carro), but here they use en instead. Also be aware that with time expressions, where you’ll be tempted to say por X amount of time, often you should use durante or nothing at all. Trabajé allá cinco años. All right, let’s dive in.

Mastering por y para is part and parcel of speaking good Spanish. Chop-chop, this column will be sans frills. Let’s get cracking!


1. RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TWO THINGS OR EVENTS (One-for-one exchange: you give, offer, or ask for one thing for another; or cause and effect: some reason or impetus elicits a feeling or action from someone)

A. Switches, sales, offers, and haggling (for)

Pagué 60 mil por estos zapatos. 

Te daré mi galleta por tu palito de queso.

Lo dejó por otro.

B. Giving thanks or asking for forgiveness (for)

Gracias por la ayuda.

Te pido disculpas por haber llegado tarde.

C. On behalf of, in favor of, supporting (for)

Yo de ti, votaría por Claudia López.

Trabajamos por los derechos humanos.

D. Cause, reason, or motivation for doing something (because of, due to)

Murió por falta de agua.

Todo lo que hago, lo hago por ti.

E. Emotions (for, because of)

Me alegra por ti.

Estoy triste por lo que pasó.

F. To show the reason for an errand or action (with ir, venir, pasar, mandar, volver, and preguntar)

Paso por ti a las ocho.

Su ex preguntó por ella.

Voy por un tinto, ya vuelvo.


2. MOVING THROUGH TIME AND SPACE (how, when, where, & for how long: we’re interested in the time during the journey, not the final destination)

A. Through, along, by, down, around, in the vicinity of

Iba por Chapinero y me encontré una tienda vintage re chévere.

Si caminas por la Séptima, verás muchos vendedores ambulantes.

B. Modes of communication (by, on)

No hables por teléfono en el bus.

Me lo dijo por Messenger.

C. Length of time (for)

Viví en Lima por 5 años antes de venir a Bogotá.

D. Time of day (during, at)

Desde La Calera, Bogotá se ve divina por la noche.



Velocity, frequency, and proportion (per)

El colibrí bate sus alas 55 veces por segundo.

Agent in passive constructions (by)

Esta ciudad fue transformada por la alcaldía de Mockus.

To be seen as, to take as (for)

Puede que sea extranjera, pero no me tomes por boba.

Substitution (for, instead of)

Lo firmé por ti, como tú no estabas.

Don’t tell me someone’s calling me a paracupine!


1. SPACE/TIME DESTINATIONS AND END POINTS (What/when/who is it for? What’s our goal/destination?)

A. Deadline or specific time (by, on, till, before)

Lo necesitamos para el lunes.

Faltan veinte minutos para las seis.

B. Goals, purposes (in order to, so that)

Para bailar la bamba, se necesita una poca de gracia . . . 

Nado para divertirme.

C. Specific destination (to)

Vámonos pa’l monte . . .

Para la 72 con 9, por favor.

D. Use or purpose/function of a thing (for, so that)

Una sombrilla se usa para que uno no se moje cuando llueve.

E. Recipient (person or activity) (for)

Esta torta es para mi novio.

¡No hay cama pa’ tanta gente!

No tengo para el viaje.



Contrast from what is expected (for, considering that)

Para una extranjera, ella habla muy bien el español.

Porkeet? Try again, mister.

Common snafus:

Work for- PARA: Trabajo para un instituto de inglés.

Excited about- POR: Estoy emocionado por mi viaje.

Forever- BOTH: PARA siempre (more common) or POR siempre

Responsible for- POR: Responsable POR, or, even better, responsable DE

Opinions- BOTH: Para mí, lo más importante es la familia. (I think, in my opinion) / Por mí, no hay problema. (That’s fine with me.)



¿Por qué lo hiciste?

Why did you do it? What made you do it? What was your reason for doing it?


¿Para qué lo hiciste?

What did you do it for? What did you hope to gain by doing it?


¿Por qué hacerlo?

Why should I do it? What good reason is there for doing it?


¿Para qué hacerlo?

What’s in it for me? What do I stand to gain?


7 responses to “Por y para (The Bogotá Post)

  1. Well done. I think you covered the most common situations. There’s really only so much you can teach anyway, the rest has to come from trial and error.


    • Agreed! Some people, though… they really like to do their best to minimize that process and try to interiorize the rules as best they can. I wish teachers didn’t present it as something that’s SO HARD, because it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s definitely manageable. And it doesn’t help to say that por and para both mean for (they do, but also so many other things), and the only thing you can do is memorize this endless list of rules.

      Paracupine and Porkeet- these guys really hate it when people mess up their names ;)

      I left you a comment on your latest post this morning, but it’s not showing! Did it get sucked into a black hole? :(

      Never heard me cayó el veinte before- cool!


  2. Justo ahora me cayó el veinte con tu chiste de paracupine, jajajaja


  3. Hi! I see you have been very active recently. I guess I will catch up in the next few days. My strategy for dealing with prepositions in different languages is to just accept them as they are and memorize their usage. Remember that people have to go through the same process when learning English, and the least you fight it the better off you are.

    Por is used for transportation, but there are some subtleties in the way people use it. You can use it to describe the medium, so to speak: viajé por tierra is common (I travelled by land.) The other two, por aire and por mar (I never heard por agua, although that should be a possibility since rivers had their heyday,) are not as common now; maybe they were many years ago. However, as you pointed out, to describe the “vessel,” the common usage is en avión, en barco, en bus… When you are shipping something you do use the expressions lo envie por barco or por avión (o por correo terrestre).


    • Hola! Yes, I guess you could say that. Your comments have brillado por su ausencia- I’m happy to have your footprints here once again.

      Totally- agree with acceptance, resignation even.

      Yep, you’re right about por for aire/mar and shipping. I decided not to get into the nitty-gritty about it ;)


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