Por and Para: Rules, Hacks and Idioms

So you started with the Spanish prepositions and you thought it was cool until you had to deal with por and para? Why two words? Do they mean the same? How do I know when to use each?

These questions are very common among all Spanish students. Learning how to use por and para can be tricky not only because they are both translated as for in a variety of contexts, but also because they can either be translated as to, in order to, by, through, in, on behalf of, due to, or even a completely different phrase! But then again, before you quit or tell yourself that Spanish does it “the strange way”, you may want to consider that Spanish prepositions are about as hard to learn as English prepositions are. Actually, they follow the same rules (in most cases). So, even though por and para may not be making much sense right now, remember they just take a bit of extra work.

So let´s get started!

General Rules

First things first, according to the Royal Spanish Academy Dictionary, there are 27 rules to use por and other 10 to use para. However, memorizing a whole list of rules is not really the approach we take at Barclay’s. Let’s go instead over these sentences and their equivalents in English to draw our own conclusions.


José vino por la mañana. (José came in the morning.)
Los invitados están por llegar. (The guests are about to come.)
Tomé clases de español por un mes. (I took Spanish lessons for a month.)
Lo hice por ti. (I did it for you.)
Lo hice por mi voluntad. (I did it willingly.)
Estaré por Varadero este fin de semana. (This weekend I will be (somewhere) in Varadero.)


Necesitamos el informe para mañana. (We need the report by tomorrow/The report is due tomorrow morning.)
Vamos para la Habana. (We are going to Havana.)
Grabé este CD para ti. (I recorded this CD for you.)
Lo dije para que supieran la verdad. (I said it, so that you could know the truth.)
El libro es para aprender español. (The book is for learning Spanish.)
Estamos comprando los regalos para Navidad. (We are buying the presents for Christmas.)

As you can see from the examples above, even though por and para can be translated as for, they are used in different contexts. So let´s narrow it down! Por is used to give the sense of motion, action in progress, imprecision, to explain one reasons as well as the causes that triggered a certain event or action; while para is used to indicate result, final destination, recipient or purpose.


Who does not love hacks?

  • TIME:

Por and para are both used to express time relations. If the time is imprecise use por, if you are talking about parts of the day also use por (NOTICE: We say por la mañana or por la noche vs. in the morning or at night. We do not use different prepositions in this case!). However, if you are talking about an exact time or referring to deadlines use always para.


If you can insert due to or because of in the sentence, then use por. If you can insert in order to, use para.


Use por to speak of speed, price, exchange, substitution, means and distribution. Use para to speak about your opinion (para mí: in my opinion), and to express cause/effect relations in the cases in which the cause is not proportional to the effect. (e.g. Para llevar tan poco tiempo en Cuba, tu español es muy bueno. // Considering you have been in Cuba for a short period of time, your Spanish is actually very good.)

Idiomatic Expressions

Por and Para are even harder to understand when they are used in idiomatic expressions. But, before you freak out with them, here are some of the hardest ones to translate, and you can get a full list at (https://www.spanishdict.com/guide/expressions-with-por-and-para)

Idiomatic Expressions with POR:

Por los pelos: it would literally be translated as for the hair, which does not make much sense in English. But it actually means barely.
Ej. Aprobé el examen por los pelos. (I barely passed the exam.)

Por nada: The Spanish equivalent to you are welcome, although it literally translates as for nothing.

And my favorite one!
Por Dios: which is the Spanish equivalent to OMG!

Idiomatic expressions with PARA:

Ser tal para cual: this phrase does not make much sense if translated literally into English. It means; however, to be two of a kind.
Ej. María y su padre son tal para cual (Maria and her father are two of a kind)

Para siempre: it is a beautiful expression in Spanish meaning forever.
Ej. Ellos prometieron que su amor duraría para siempre. (They promised their love will last forever.)

Para variar: this expression translates as for a change, and it is very used in the language. Notice, that just as its English equivalent, it has a straightforward meaning and a quite sarcastic one.
Ej. Tomemos un taxi para variar. (Let´s take a taxi for a change.)

I really hope that the por and para conflict seems a little bit more clear now. However, remember that when it comes to learning languages we can take as many shortcuts as we want, but practice is and will always be the only way to make perfection. So here we dropped some quizzes, feel free to go over them to apply what you have just learned, or get in touch with us for a one-on-one explanation with our native Spanish speaking teachers!