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Differences between PARA and POR in similar syntax

Module by: Marathon Montrose Ramsey. E-mail the author

Summary: Explains the subtle differences in meaning between the Spanish prepositions por and para when they are used in similar syntactic situations.

Both para and por may be followed by an infinitive and used to denote the end for which an action is intended, but with the following distinctions:

  • Para is used when the result of the action is certain, or we express our conviction of success. It means "in order to", "with the intention of".
  • Por expresses an effort in the direction indicated, and means "for the sake of". It leaves the result undecided, or conveys the idea that we cannot or will not express a conviction of success.

Example 1

Voy á Nueva York para ver el puente de Brooklin. I am going to New York to see the Brooklyn Bridge.

Example 2

Ando por ver si puedo dormir. I walk to see if I can sleep.

Example 3

Iré á España para aprender el idioma. I will go to Spain to learn the language.

Example 4

Iré á Washington por hablar al presidente. I will go to Washington and try to talk with the president.

Example 5

Ofrecen dinero por entrar. They offer money to get in.

Example 6

Dan dinero para entrar. They give money to get in (they pay an entrance fee).

Example 7

Estudio por aprender. I study [hard] to learn.

Example 8

Es preciso estudiar para aprender. It is necessary to study in order to learn.

Example 9

Trabajo por ganar la vida. I endeavor to earn my living.

Example 10

Necesito trabajar para ganar la vida. I need to work to earn my living.

After estar, if a person is subject, por indicates inclination, and para immediate futurity; por moreover leaves the carrying-out of the inclination uncertain, para implies that is going to occur:

Example 11

Estoy por salir. I am inclined to go out.

Example 12

Estoy para salir. I am on the point of going out.

Example 13

Estoy por creer que es guasa. I am inclined to think it is a hoax.

Example 14

Estaba para entrar cuando le llamé. He was about to go in when I called him.

But if a thing be the subject, por denotes that the action is yet to be performed, and para that it is to be immediately performed:

Example 15

La discusión está por concluir. The discussion is as yet unfinished.

Example 16

La discusión está para concluir. The discussion is about to come to a close.

Example 17

Está para llover. It is going to rain.

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