Unit 5: The infinitive, stem-change verbs, and por and para

5.5 Prepositions POR and PARA

Both of these prepositions often translate as “for.” In reading comprehension, problems may be posed in cases when they do not translate as such or you may miss the most accurate meaning when they have more specific possibilities of translation. This section focuses on those occasions.

Por is the more vibrant and dynamic of these prepositions, while para is the more flat, “neutral” one, as will be seen in some of the cases below. Whenever possible, opt for the translation that provides the most nuance, such as in the following cases.

Uses of para that do not always translate as “for”:

1. Purpose: “to,” “in order to”

Estamos aquí para aprender español. We’re here (in order) to learn Spanish.
Luis estudia para (ser) ingeniero. Luis is studying to be an engineer.

2. Destination: “to,” “headed to,” “to leave for”

Mañana vamos a ir para San Andrés. Tomorrow we’re going to go to San Andrés

3. To be used for: noun + para (not translated) + noun

Necesitamos más vasos para vino. We need more wine glasses.

¡Ojo! Pay special attention to vasos para vino versus vasos de vino. The latter translates as “glasses (full) of wine”:

Hay varios vasos de vino en la mesa. There are several glasses of wine on the table.

4. Deadline: “by” (occasionally, “for”)

Hay que terminar los informes para el viernes. It’s necessary to finish the reports by Friday.

5. In the opinion of (or “for”)

Para ellos, viajar al extranjero es muy importante. In their opinion (For them), traveling abroad is very important.

6. To be about to do something

Estamos para salir y suena el teléfono. We are about to leave and the telephone rings.

¡Ojo! The above construction is from Spain. In most of the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, the expression estar por + infinitive means “to be about to do something.” (See usage 12, below.) Context and origin of text should clarify meaning.

7. To be done

Tenemos mucho trabajo para hacer. We have much work to be done (to do).

Contrast with usage 15 of porPor indicates a stronger sense of urgency.

8. Comparison, Contrast (“considering”)

Para verano, hace bastante frío. Considering it’s (For) summer, it’s fairly cold.

9. Idiomatic Expressions

para siempre forever
para nada not… at all
para empezar for starters
para variar just for a change

Ejemplos con expresiones idiomáticas:

Van a ser amigos para siempre. They’re going to be friends forever.
A Lidia no le gustan las verduras para nada. Sólo quiere comer fruta. Lidia doesn’t like vegetables at all. She only wants to eat fruit.
Para empezar, tiene el hábito de interrumpir. For starters, he has the habit of interrupting.
Vamos a quedarnos en la ciudad este verano para variar. We’re going to stay in the city this summer just for a change.

Uses of por that do not always translate as “for”:

1. Indefinite place: “around”

¿Está Arturo por aquí? Is Arturo around here?

2. Movement: “along,” “by”

Caminan por la playa. They’re walking along the beach.

3. Movement: “through”

Este verano vamos a viajar por Costa Rica. This summer we’re going to travel through Costa Rica.

¡Ojo! Contrast this with usage 2 of para which indicates destination:

Este verano vamos a viajar para Costa Rica. This summer we’re going to travel to Costa Rica.

4. Explanation: “because of,” “on account of,” “out of”

Por miedo, Soledad no entra en el agua. Soledad doesn’t go into the water out of fear.

5. Indefinite time: “around”

Por noviembre, es necesario comenzar a estudiar mucho. Around November, it’s necessary to begin studying a lot.

¡Ojo! Contrast this with usage 4 of para:

Para noviembre, es necesario comenzar a estudiar mucho. By November, it’s necessary to begin to study a lot

6. “In place of,” “instead of”

Como mi hermano no puede asistir, voy por él. As my brother can’t attend, I’m going in his place (instead of him).

7. “For the sake of,” “on behalf of”

Hago esto por mis padres. I’m doing this for my parents’ sake (on behalf of my parents).

8. By means of: “by”

Mandamos el paquete por avión. We’re sending the package by plane.
¿Vienes por autobús o por tren? Are you coming by bus or by train?

9. Agent: “by” (following a past participle in a passive voice construction [See section 15.6.]

Son detendios por la policía. They are detained (arrested) by the police.

10. Parts of the day: “in,” “at”

Pilar estudia por la tarde y trabaja por la noche. Pilar studies in the afternoon and works at night.

11. From the Latin: “per”

¿Cuánto gana por hora un abogado? How much does a lawyer earn per hour?

Also common instead of por is a: Vienen al pueblo una vez a la semana [They come to the town once a (per) week.]

12. Opinion: “in favor of”

¿Estás por ir allí? Are you in favor of going there?

13. Object of a search: Verb of motion + “to get”

Va por ayuda. He’s going to get help.
Salen por más agua. They’re going out to get more water.

14. “On one’s honor”

Juro por mi honor que es verdad. I swear on my honor that it’s true.

15. “To be done” (“to”)

Tengo un informe por escribir. I have a report to be written.

This is in essence synonymous with Tengo un informe para escribir (usage 7 of para), but the sentence with por connotes greater urgency, that it is incumbent on the speaker to write the report. The sentence using para lacks this urgency and is a more “neutral” utterance.

16. Purpose: “in order to”

Hago todo lo posible por hacer ir a Manuel. I’m doing everything possible in order to make Manuel go.

This sentence is similar to usage 1 of para, however the use of por connotes strong resolve and deliberate effort, if not emotion. In comparison, the sentence Hago todo lo posible para hacer ir a Manuel is more “flat.”

17. Strong opinion: “as far as one is concerned”

Por ella, puedes hacer lo que quieres. As far as she’s concerned, you can do what you want.

This can be contrasted with usage 5 of para: Para ella, puedes hacer lo que quieres. The sentence with para is simply less emotional or less strong, just as “as far as one is concerned” is a stronger expression in English than “in one’s opinion.”

18. In exchange for

Por su testimonio recibe mucho dinero. In exchange for his testimony, he gets (receives) a lot of money.

19. Por is used in many idiomatic expressions:

por ciento percent
por Dios for heaven’s sake
por favor please
por fin finally
por lo general generally
por lo visto apparently, evidently
por suerte luckily, with luck
por todas partes (todos lados) everywhere

 

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Spanish for Reading and Translation by Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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