Do you say “por” or “para” in Spanish to mean “for”?

Spanish Tutorial

Do you say "por" or "para" in Spanish to mean "for"?


Many Spanish students still confuse “por” and “para”, in part because the two words both mean “for” in English, but also because, well, they sound similar, too! How can you learn the difference?

Sample Problem

How would you say “Thanks for the gift” in Spanish?

Gracias del regalo.

Gracias para el regalo.

Gracias pour el regalo.

Gracias al regalo.

Gracias por el regalo.


The answer is “Gracias por el regalo”. Why? While both “por” and “para” can mean “for” in Spanish, “por” is the word we use to indicate exchanges or interchanges. “Por” can be envisioned in part as an “x”, the same “x” as in a mathematical equation meaning “by” or “times”.

So the answer is “gracias por el regalo” because you are giving thanks “in exchange for” a gift.

We also use “por” to pay for things, as in: “Pago cinco dólares por la bufanda.” (I pay five dollars for the scarf.) Do you see that the dollars are given in exchange for the scarf?

You can also exchange one person for another, as in: “Mañana trabajo por Lola.” That is, I will be taking Lola’s shift at the factory! I am working in place of her.

Finally, you can use “por” in an equation, as in: “dos por dos es cuatro” (two times two is four).

These are not the only meanings of “por”, but this is a good way to start understanding the concept: Por = eXchange.

About The Author

Grammar, Writing, Literature, Spanish Language Exp
I am a full-time freelance teacher and writer. Former adjunct professor of Spanish at The New School for Social Research, Einstein College of Medicine, and Princeton Adult School, I have also taught Spanish at Columbia University's Chazen School of Business, IBM, and New York Medical College. As a w...
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