The Prepositions “Por” and “Para”

This difference between por and para in Portuguese is a topic that is tricky for English speakers. Although both of these words can translate to “for”, you have to choose the correct one depending on the situation.

Para

Para can mean for, to, in order to, or towards.
To refer to a destination or result, you would always choose para instead of por.
Nós vamos para casa We go home
Eu vou para Portugal I go to Portugal
A salada é para ele, o peixe é para mim The salad is for him, the fish is for me
A criança apontou para cima The child pointed up

Por


Por can mean for, by, via, per, or through.
Eu espero por ti I wait for you
A caixa foi aberta por Pandora The box was opened by Pandora
Dividir o dinheiro por duas pessoas To divide the money by between two people
Ela vai por She goes through there
Nós corremos duas vezes por semana We run twice per week

Contractions

You will never see “por o” or “por a” in a sentence. When por is combined with the articles o or a, it becomes:

  • pelo
  • pela

Estou feliz pelo meu pai I am happy for my father
Tu esperas pela tua mãe You wait for your mother
Obrigado pelo presente Thank you for the present
This only applies to por, as para can be followed by a.
Eu vou para a escola I go to the school

Comments:

  • Am I correct that “para mim” is ok when the waiter asks who a dish is for?
    If so might more examples of use of para appear. I seem to hear it’s use in the Eastern Algarve much more than “por”.

    • Yes, you should use “para” to describe who the dish (or any other object) is for. Your suggestion/request is duly noted 🙂

  • O versão oral dá frase “Dividir o dinheiro por dois” não corresponde ao texto. A voz diz “duas pessoas”.
    Eu gosto muito de PP! Contribui muito aos meus progressos em português. Obrigado!

  • If I want to say thank you for your work, do I use para or por? Or are they interchangeable in this example?

    Muito obrigada

    • You should use only “por”, which is then be contracted to “pelo” (por + o) or “pela” (por + a). In this case, since “trabalho” is a masculine noun, it’s preceded by “pelo” (por + o). So you could say, for example, “Obrigada pelo vosso trabalho” 🙂

  • I’m uncertain as when to combine por with an article. In the example above it sais: ” … por semana”, but if I want to specify that it’s about this week “esta semana”, would I then say “… pela esta semana”?

    • Olá, Karl! You should only combine “por” with a definite article when an article is required in the sentence. In the example “Nós corremos duas vezes por semana”, there is no need for a definite article, even if you changed it to this week. You’d just say “Nós corremos duas vezes esta semana”. On the other hand, in the example “Estou feliz pelo meu pai”, the definite article is needed because of the noun “pai” (father). So, you first have “Estou feliz por o meu pai” and from there, you end up with “Estou feliz pelo meu pai”.

      Here’s more about Portuguese definite articles and when to use them: Definite Articles in Portuguese

  • I have a question on one of the examples. In the sentence ‘La caixa foi aberta por Pandora’. why isn’t it ‘por a Pandora’?
    I really appreciate these comment sections, it’s useful to see what other learners are having problems with and your replies.

    • Olá, Pat. Both ways are fine!
      – Without a definite article: “A caixa foi aberta por Pandora”
      – With a definite article: “A caixa foi aberta pela Pandora” -> pela = por + a. “Por a” doesn’t sound natural for us; save for specific sentence structures that require this separation, we always contract these two words.

      We usually omit the definite article, for example, in more formal, journalistic or literary writing. The definite article adds a more informal touch to it, generally speaking.

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