Costa Levante News - - ESSENTIAL SPANISH -

Amazing as it seems, I haven’t yet writ­ten about the dif­fer­ence be­tween “por” and “para” in Span­ish. Con­sid­er­ing the fact that I’m get­ting near the two hun­dred mark of what will even­tu­ally be­come a five-vol­ume se­ries of “Step by Step Span­ish” ar­ti­cles, that’s quite an achieve­ment, es­pe­cially as it’s a ques­tion that comes up fre­quently in class.

So, I’m now go­ing to com­pare and con­trast the uses of POR and PARA in three ways, ac­cord­ing to three dif­fer­ent con­cepts. Be­fore you throw up your hands in hor­ror, just think for a while about how you would ex­plain the use of the words “for” and “to” to some­one who didn’t speak much English. Be­lieve me, that would be much more com­pli­cated than what we are go­ing to do now. Firstly, we use “por” to ex­press the rea­son for some­thing and “para” to ex­press the pur­pose for some­thing. When we ask “¿Por qué?” (Why?), we are ac­tu­ally ask­ing “For what rea­son?”, that is, what is the cause of some­thing. There is an­other ques­tion which is “¿Para qué?” which also means “Why?” but in the sense of “what for?”, that is, “For what pur­pose?” “Por” on its own in this sense can be trans­lated as “be­cause of ”. “¿Por qué lle­gas tarde?” (Why are you late?) “Por el trá­fico” (Be­cause of the traf­fic) – in other word ex­press­ing the rea­son for, or cause of, our late­ness. “Para” on the other hand ex­presses “pur­pose”. “¿Para qué usas esta her­ramienta?” (What do you use this tool for?) “Para cor­tar madera” (To cut wood) – in other words, for the pur­pose of cut­ting word. The sec­ond con­cept is the con­trast be­tween “ex­change” on the one hand, and some­thing go­ing in one di­rec­tion, i.e. not be­ing ex­changed, on the other. This is eas­ier to understand with ex­am­ples. “Com­pré un li­bro por 20 eu­ros” (I bought a book for – in ex­change for – 20 eu­ros). “Com­pré un li­bro para mi marido” (I bought a book for – as a present for - my hus­band). There­fore, if you say “com­pré un li­bro por mi marido” you are say­ing: “I bought a book in ex­change for my hus­band” which, as tempt­ing as it might sound, is not a deal usu­ally of­fered by book­shops. Thirdly we have a time-re­lated con­cept. “Por” refers to a pe­riod of time whereas “para” refers to a time dead­line. The clas­sic mis­take is when we want to say: “I’m go­ing to Eng­land for two weeks” which is: “Voy a Inglaterra por dos se­m­anas”. “Two weeks” is a pe­riod of time so we must use “por”. How­ever, when “for” refers to a spe­cific time in the fu­ture we un­der­stand­ing with some­one, we re­fer to this as an “en­tendimiento”. We can also use the re­flex­ive verb “en­ten­derse” in this con­text. For ex­am­ple: “No pude en­ten­derme con mi ve­cino” (I couldnt´ reach an un­der­stand­ing with my neigh­bour). To make your­self un­der­stood is “hac­erse en­ten­der”. There is also a com­mon phrase “dar a en­ten­der” which means “to give the im­pres­sion” or “to lead (some­one) to be­lieve”. The phrase lit­er­ally trans­lates as “to give to understand” and is there­fore a good il­lus­tra­tion of how tricky trans­la­tion can be some­times!

The op­po­site of “en­ten­der” is “ma­len­ten­der” (to mis­un­der­stand – or lit­er­ally, to understand badly) and as in the above Guardia Civil story, we should al­ways try to avoid “ma­len­ten­di­dos” (mis­un­der­stand­ings). At the end of an ex­pla­na­tion, when you want to let some­one know that you have ac­tu­ally un­der­stood what they have told you, you can say “en­ten­dido” (un­der­stood!) How­ever, if you havent´ got a clue what they are talk­ing about you can al­ways say “No en­tiendo nada” (I dont´ understand any­thing). use “para” as in “Los de­beres son para martes”. The home­work is for Tues­day. “Lle­garán para las dos”. “They will ar­rive for (or by)two oclock”.´

In ad­di­tion to these three main con­cepts, there are quite a lot of id­iomatic uses of “por” and “para” (es­pe­cially “por”) which you just have to get fa­mil­iar with one by one. Many of them you al­ready know – “por fa­vor”; “para mí”; “por telé­fono”; “gra­cias por …”. An­other mean­ing of “por” is “by” or “times” as when we are say­ing mea­sure­ments. “2m x 2m” would be said us­ing “por” and the tex­ting sym­bol for “por” is an “x”. On the other hand, if you can’t get to grips with any of this, you can al­ways shout out “¡Por dios!” but def­i­nitely not “para dios”, if you don’t mind.

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