"Por" and "para" . When to use each.

I understand why sometimes my students say that Spanish is full of tiny little words, just like “por” and “para”. Understanding the use of them take some patience, yes, but we couldn’t live without them!
So let’s burn our brain just a bit because there’s a way to master these little bastards.

I have plenty of examples and a quick task for you to test yourself at the end of the post as well as a practical infographic so let’s get into it :)

When to use para :

1- To express the purpose why you do something, "in order to":
Ex 1: Tengo que salir para comprar pan – I have to go out in order to buy bread.
Ex 2: Las gafas son para protegerte del sol – Glasses are in order to protect you from the sun.
Ex 3: Tomo té para desayunar – I have tea in order to have breakfast.

2- To say who is the recipient/beneficiary:
Ex: Este regalo es para mi madre – This present is for my mother.
Ex 2: Cubro estos papeles para el ayuntamiento - I fill up these documents for the town hall.
Ex 3: Trabajamos para la misma compañía - We work for the same company.

Also related to people, not getting a benefit but reacting with an opinion (feel free to consider this a separate point):
Para mí (for me), para ti (for you), para él (for him), para ella (for her), para nosotros(for us), para vosotros (for you guys), para ellos (for them), kind of like a "according to..." or "in my opinion"
Ex: para mí, esa regla es demasiado estricta - For me/in my opinion, that rule is too strict.

3- Deadline.
Ex: Los deberes son para el martes – Homework is for Tuesday / Homework’s deadline is Tuesday.

4- Destination on transport.
Ex: El tren va para Soria – The train goes to Soria.

5- Considering that…
Ex: Hablas muy bien español para ser extranjero – You speak Spanish very well for a foreigner.

TIP: Apart from the last point, all of them can be considered an "end": an end goal (purpose), and end person (a recipient), an end date (deadline), or and end place (destination).

When to use por :

1- Express reason, "because of"
Ex 1: La guía canceló el viaje por el viento – The guide cancelled the trip because of the wind.
Ex 2: Hoy no trabajo por la huelga – Today I don’t work because of the strike.

A variation of this one is when you express when something happens around a celebration.
Ex1: Vuelvo a casa por Navidad - I come back home for Christmas
Ex2: Voy a visitar a mi madre por su cumpleaños – I’m going to visit my mother for her birthday.

Also, when you do something for someone, like a favour, or something that they benefit from. It's not something you give them and they receive (that's para) it's something you do and they're the reason you do it:

Ex: Me quedo hasta tarde por ella - I stay until late for her.
Ex: Hago esto por ti- I do this for you.

Another variation, would be "on someone's behalf!"

Ex: Puedes firmar por mí - you can sign on my behalf.

2- The way you do something or the tool you use. Sometimes you can translate it as "through".

Ex 1: Me contó la historia por teléfono – She/he told me the story through/on the phone.
Ex 2: Me gusta comprar por internet – I like buying through/on internet.
Ex 3: Vamos al ayuntamiento por la calle Toledo – We go to the town hall through Toledo street.
Ex4: ¿Por dónde tengo que ir para llegar a tu casa? – Where do I have to go through to arrive to your house?*

3- Part of the day.
Ex: Voy al trabajo por la mañana – I go to work in the morning.
Por la mañana / por la tarde / por la noche – in the morning / in the afternoon / at night.

4- Price.
Ex: Compraste este abrigo por 20 euros – You bought this coat for 20 euros.

5- Passive (to express who did the action using the passive voice).
Ex 1: El cuadro fue pintado por Van Gogh – The painting was painted by Van Gogh.
Ex 2: Estos edificios están diseñados por profesionales – These buildings are designed by professionals.

Bonus ones (yay!)
Sometimes you can use "por" to express "around" or "along" or even "across".
Ex 1: No vimos el palacio por dentro - We didn't see the palace around inside.
Ex 2: Voy a dar un paseo por la ciudad - I'm going to have a walk around the city.
Ex 3: Voy a viajar por el mundo - I'm going to travel around the world.

And lastly, when we say "per person" or "per week", diving quantities like Tenemos 3 croquetas por persona - We have 3 croquetes per person. If you haven't tried "croquetas", you're missing out!

There you go! Only five main points for each of them. Take your time to read through them again and do the following activity to test your skills. Remember, there’s nothing you can’t do with practice ;)

And right after, I attached an infographic so you can recap easily!

Complete with por or para.

  • Siempre vienes aquí ____ la tarde (You always come here in the afternoon).
  • Deberías buscar ____ fuera ( You should look around outside)
  • Prefiero mandarte mi CV ____ correo (I prefer to send you my CV through email)
  • Quiero una entrada ____ el cine (I want a ticket for the cinema).
  • Todo está mojado ____ la lluvia (Everything is wet because of the rain).
  • Tengo un regalo ______mi padre (I have a present for my dad).
  • Voy _______ esta calle____ llegar antes (I go through this street to arrive earlier) .
  • Puedes comprar un cepillo ____ dos euros (You can buy a brush for two euros).
  • Podemos distribuir el dinero y recibimos 5 euros ____ persona (we can distribute the money and we receive 5 euros per person).
  • Los exámenes son corregidos ____ la profesora (The tests are corrected by the teacher).
  • Te voy a visitar ______ tu cumpleaños (I’m going to visit you for your birthday)
  • No puedo hacer ejercicio _____mi enfermedad (I can’t do exercise because of my disease)