Having a native speaker as a language instructor has certain advantages, particularly when it comes to pronunciation. But I find my particular native-Spanish-speaking instructor to be a little frustrating when it comes to explanation. Recently we were given a list of prepositions and their meanings. Fine enough, until you come to the words para and por. Both were given the English definition “for.” This has a couple of problems. To say that either of those words means only “for” is crazy. Even an elementary student like me has come across multiple uses for both of them.
Trabajo para ser rico. “I work in order to be rich.”
El tren está para salir. “The train is about to leave.”
El libro fue escrito por Hemingway. “The book was written by Hemingway.”
Caminamos por el parque. “We walk through the park.”
More importantly, for is a varied and elusive word in English…and it appears to be so in Spanish as well.
Un regalo para ti. “A gift for you.”
Trabajo aquí por el dinero. “I work here for the money.”
Salgo para Chicago. “I’m leaving for Chicago.”
Estudié por dos horas. “I studied for two hours.”
So I started hunting for some answers to the para/por question because my brain hurt from all these fors. First I find something that says para is for “purpose or destination” and por is for “cause or motion.” Okay, so that explains why I leave “para Chicago” but walk “por el parque.” Still a little vague though, and not very definitive. Then I found this video.
That helps a little more…at least with para. But it’s a little simplistic to say por is used in all other cases, ¿no? And think of all the expressions with por: por ahora, por supuesto, por favor, por ejemplo, por cierto… Well, I’ll just keep trucking. Prepositions in any language take time to learn.