This question arises when you have completed your introductory beginners level. Don’t worry you aren’t the only one that doesn’t quite grasp the rule of when to use. Maybe you know the rule but still can’t seem to use it properly when having a conversation. Again, you’re not alone.
So read these two sentences and before you see the translation let it sit in:
Juan está buscando el libro para Luz.
Juan está buscando el libro por luz.
Juan is looking for the book for Luz.
Juan is looking for the book for Luz.
WHAT IN THE WORLD?! Yes I know confusing right? Especially when you go into Google translate and it shows those 2 responses. Okay, lets break it down quickly. Since this i a very small difference but means the world when you are chatting with friends.
In the first sentence, Juan is looking for the book to give to Luz. In the second sentence he (Juan) is looking for the book on behalf of Luz.
Now, lets look at it when your speaking about cause and effect. Its great when you know which preposition is associated with a cause and which is associated with an effect. Por normally is the action’s cause. While para is the action’s effect. Lets look at these examples:
Luz trabaja para Enrique.
Luz works for Enrique.
In this case, saying Luz works for Enrique means the same thing as saying Juan is looking for the book. Enrique and the book are the effect of the situations.
Cristina está trabajando por Luz.
Cristina is working for Luz.
For this, to say Cristina is working for Luz is the same saying Cristina is working on behalf of Luz. Luz is the reason why –the cause– for Cristina to be working. So, para is used when a statement calls for in order to and por is used when a statement calls for on behalf of.
Okay still confusing?
Think this: Are your working to produce results for your boss (para)? Or are you working on behalf of your sick coworker (por)?
Another time we use these two amazing words (that mean for) is for travel and destination. In Spanish, por and para can also be used to describe traveling or a motion. So super nice tip. Try and remember when you use por it refers to travel/motion through a place or location. Para refers to the destination of a trip/journey.
Nos paseamos por el parque.
We stroll through the park.
Salimos para la iglesia a las nueve.
We leave for church at nine o’clock.
First example, el parque is how we go to the destination- what we go through. Second example, la iglesia is the destination- what we go to.
This one is SUPER easy. When talking about how long it took to do something or how long it took to go somewhere we use por. When we are talking about a deadline for an action we use para. Look at the samples below:
Cada día trabajamos por ocho horas.
Every day we work for eight hours.
Necesito la ropa para el jueves.
I need the clothes for Thursday.
Whenever a statement refers to duration; doing homework, driving, walking, or traveling, use por. When you want to refer to a deadline use para. Sooooo easy compared to the above examples.
I put some more examples but a little less explaining.
Por is used to talk about exchanges and trades.
Te cambio mi manzana por tu sandwich.
I’ll trade you my apple for your sandwich.
Te doy sesenta pesos por la mochilla.
I’ll give you sixty pesos for that backpack.
Por is used to talk about motivations or reasons for doing something.
Por su amor a los niños, quiere ser pediatra.
Because of her love for children, she wants to be a pediatrician.
Trabajo por ti, porque te quiero cuidar.
I work for you, because i want to take care of you.
Para is used to indicate the intended recipient of something, like a gift.
Este regalo es para Sonia.
This gift is for Sonia.
No, José. Estos chocolates no son para los perros.
No Jose. These chocolates aren’t for the dogs.
Para is used to talk about goals and purposes. It’s especially common to see para used with an infinitive to talk about why something is done.
Trabaja mucho para ganar más dinero.
He works a lot in order to earn more money.
Corro para mantenerme en forma.
I run to stay in shape.
COMMONLY USED EXPRESSIONS
just for a change
so that/ in order that
for what reason