The Difference Between 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 context. As with the other prepositions, it’s best to think about how each word is used, rather than the translation, since this will vary quite a bit.

Para

Para paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio usually translates to 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 paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio We go home
Eu vou para Portugal paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I go to Portugal
A salada é para ele, o peixe é para mim paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio The salad is for him, the fish is for me
A criança apontou para cima paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio The child pointed up

Por


Por paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio usually translates to for, by, via, per, or through.
Eu espero por ti paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I wait for you
A caixa foi aberta por Pandora paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio The box was opened by Pandora
Dividir o dinheiro por duas pessoas paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio To divide the money by (between) two people
Ela vai por paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio She goes through there
Nós corremos duas vezes por semana paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio 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 paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio and pela paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio
Estou feliz pelo meu pai paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I am happy for my father
Tu esperas pela tua mãe paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio You wait for your mother
Obrigado pelo presente paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Thank you for the present
Obrigada pelos presentes paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Thank you for the gifts (female speaker)
This only applies to por, as para can be followed by a.
Eu vou para a escola paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I go to the school

Por vs. Para

Here are a few sets of examples to help illustrate the differences in usage:

On Behalf Of vs. Recipient

  • Fazer ___ por ti means doing (something) on behalf of someone or in someone’s honour.
    • Vou fazer sopa por tiI'm going to make soup on your behalf – i.e. I am offering to cook in your place, so you don’t have to
  • Fazer ___ para ti generally means doing (something) for someone in the sense of offering them the result of your action, so to speak. For example,
    • Vou fazer sopa para tiI'm going to make soup for you – i.e. I’m making soup and giving it to you

Because Of vs. In Order To

Por points backward, telling us the reason for the action, while para points forward, telling us the purpose of the action.

  • Eu espero por ti paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I wait for you – In this context, it’s almost like a more subtle/neutral way of saying I wait because of you / You are the reason I’m waiting. The cause of the action “wait” is “you”.
  • A máquina precisa de pilhas para funcionar paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio The machine needs batteries to work – It needs batteries in order to function. The purpose of “needing batteries” is “to make the machine work”.

Journey/Process vs. Destination

It can sometimes help to think about para having the more “directional” meaning, pointing toward the “destination” ahead of you, either in time or space.  In contrast, por often describes the actual process of getting to that point.

  • A mulher passa pela porta paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio The woman passes through the door – Remember that pela comes from por + a. She gets somewhere via the door / by using the door.
  • Eu vou para Portugal paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I go to PortugalPara points to the final destination, which is Portugal.

  • A caixa foi aberta por Pandora paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio The box was opened by Pandora – Describes how the box was opened, i.e. the process by which this action occurred
  • A salada é para ele, o peixe é para mim paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio The salad is for him, the fish is for me – The salad will be given to him and the fish will go to me. Para points to the “final destinations” of the fish and the salad.

Time Period vs. Time Until

Both are used in the context of time, but por indicates a period of time, while para is used to talk about how much time until something happens or just pointing at a set time.
São dez para as dez da manhã paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio It's ten to 10 a.m. – i.e. it’s 9:50 a.m. (10 minutes until 10a.m.)
Nós corremos duas vezes por semana paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio We run twice per week – Twice within the time period of 1 week

  • 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.

  • I think maybe I wasn’t clear as to what I was asking. It wasn’t about the contraction, it was the omission of the ‘a’ before the name that confused me, I thought it was correct to use the definite article with a name?

    • Olá, Pat. I understood your question and tried to give you the most complete answer possible, but maybe I failed at that! No problem, hah.

      I was trying to tell you two things:
      1) That yes, it is correct to use the definite article with names, but also equally correct not to use the article (and then added how one option is particularly appropriate in certain contexts, like formal writing, while the other seems perhaps more casual);
      2) That even when we do use the definite article, you won’t see it the way you might be expecting. I.e., you wouldn’t see “por a Pandora”, but always “pela Pandora”, because it’s one of those contractions that we have to make if we want to sound natural (save for few exceptions).

      I hope that this is clearer on my part now 🙂

  • Hello this lesson is still not very clear to me? Do you have other tips or exercises to get use to the difference between para and por?
    Thank you for your amazing work!

    • You may have already done these, but the next few lessons in the Prepositions 1 unit include some phrases with por and para, especially Lessons 2 and 3. We are working on a few Shorties that will help as well, but they aren’t quite ready yet. In the meantime, the best way to get used to the differences is to keep an eye out for other phrases including por and para throughout the units and listening for them in the episodes. Over time, it will start to feel more natural to use one or the other in different contexts.

      Another way to think of the distinction is that “para” is usually used to talk about direction (going to the school), whereas “por” is used to talk about the way you got there (passing by the school). “Para” is often used where we would say “in order to” in English. “Por” is often used where we would say “due to” or “because of”. “Por” is also used to talk about lengths of time (for two weeks). That doesn’t cover all the uses, but I hope it helps a little. 🙂

  • You comment that por can mean “for, by, via, per, or through”, but then you give an example where the best English translation is “between” rather than “by”. So shouldn’t your original list include “between”?

    • I think we decided not to include “between” in the list because it only really means that in very specific contexts, such as that example — “dividing between” / “dividing by“. (Actually, I think one could argue that “among / amongst” might be an even better way to word it in English here.) With prepositions in particular, it’s tough because there isn’t really an exact word to word translation. It’s more about figuring out which Portuguese prepositions are used in which contexts. I changed the wording a bit to make it clear that these are just the most common translations.

  • Would a native Portuguese cringe at hearing “por a” or “por o” being used? I live in Silicon Valley where there are many immigrants (I’m one too) and it’s completely normal to hear various levels of competence in spoken English. It’s never an issue though, and we just ask for clarification if there is ever any doubt about what someone said. No one is ever offended. I’ve heard that some European countries are more “sensitive” about foreigners doing a poor job at speaking their language. How would a Portuguese react to a well intentioned Canadian stumbling over their language?

    • Oh, the Portuguese are usually genuinely appreciative when people try to speak their language! You (and whoever else reads this) shouldn’t worry about the mistakes you might make – it’s part of the learning process, and most people will give you room to make mistakes without judging you negatively. Just expect a number of them to try to switch to English if they think that would make you more comfortable or if they just want to grab an opportunity to dust off their own language skills.

  • I definitely agree with Joseph! Throughout my own learning journey, it has been rare for me to feel judged for making grammar mistakes (which of course still happen!) Right from the start, people were just impressed and excited I was learning EU PT, since I think Portuguese are more used to having to adapt to foreigners than the other way around. To me, this should be encouraging that we can just get out there and speak as much as possible instead of fear of snobbery. If you come across any snobs who will judge your grammar errors, they probably won’t be the type of person that deserve a second thought from you 😉

  • Thanks for the comments. I’m looking forward to making it to Portugal, hopefully in 2021, as soon as it’s safe to travel again. I’m keepong my fingers crossed that the worst of this pandemic will be over by the end of the summer.

    • Good question! There are no contractions with por + indefinite articles. So it would just remain por uma, por um, etc. 🙂

  • Good job and really helpful.
    Since I like to link everything possible to my flash cards I would like you to give “Tu esperas pela tua mae” a linking button.
    Thanks and thanks a lot for giving me hope that after 3 years I might now be able to leatn this language a bit

    • Thank you, so glad this has been helpful for you! I added the Smart Review button for that phrase. You may notice some others without a button — we recently added this feature, so there is still some work to do to get ALL the phrases ready for Smart Review. But we’re gradually adding more and more. 🙂

  • I think the response is that when it’s an obviously famous person, real or mythical as in this case, to whom you are referring then the definite article is omitted. So I might have met my friend Cristiano at his house: encontrei o Cristiano na casa dele. But if I met Cristiano Ronaldo then it is : encontrei Cristiano na casa dele.

    • Olá, Mudan. The omission of the definite article has more to do with the writing style than with the person at hand. In formal/journalistic/literary writing, it’s more common to omit definite articles before any given names. This is unusual in informal writing and in speech.

  • I wished to ask about some subtleties as I have studied this and as I see it used in readings it is making me wonder.

    Por is for cause and therefore:
    Por tal motivo, o partido comunista tolerou o budismo durante esse período.
    Therefore (for such), the Communist Party tolerated Buddhism during this period.

    However, when the word motivo is not there, I am seeing Para used. Should it not still be Por because the word therefore implies cause just as we do for Por isso? Or, are they switching to Para to say For such just as something is for someone? Os livros são para Paul.

    Para tal, deve sempre guardar os comprovativos de compra dos equipamentos.
    Therefore, you must always keep the invoice or similar documents for your purchases.

    Thank you in advance for any clarification on this particular set of situations.

    • Olá, Paul. “Para tal” doesn’t mean “Therefore; for that reason”, but “To that end; for that purpose; in order to do that”. It was just this subtlety that was throwing you off.

  • Thanks for this article! Por vs Para has always a puzzle for me, especially the ΅recipient “or “on behalf of” uses which would both just be “for” in English. Now its all coming together! Estou muito agradecida pela ajuda!

  • If ‘por’ is used to express a period of time, why is it not used in the phrase ‘vou de ferias quinze dias’ as featured elsewhere on the PP site? I would have expected to see ‘vou de ferias por quinze dias’ (I’m going on holiday for 15 days)…or is this too literal a translation from English?
    Apologies for the missing accent on the ‘e’ in ‘ferias’….I haven’t worked out how to get the accents on my laptop keyboard…..

    • Olá! Good question and nice analysis, which is actually entirely correct 🙂 We can and do say “Vou de férias por quinze dias”, but we also omit the preposition just as often. Both ways are fine and sound natural to a native speaker.

  • Ola!
    Cab you help me with this context please
    1 – É para onde?
    2 – para a embaixada dos Estados Unidos
    3 – por onde deseja ir?
    4 – pelo caminho mais rápido, por favor.
    Taxista ask Cliente in line 1 where she wants to go and in line 3 again ask her where she wants to go!
    The answer in line 4 is “by the fastest way”
    I’m not sure Taxista ask for destination or how she wants to go there!
    I’m confused abit. Would be thankful if you could help me.

    Muito Obrigada

    • Olá! In line 1, by asking “para onde”, the taxi driver is asking where the client wants to go. In line 3, by wasking “por onde”, the taxi driver is asking how the client wants to get there (which path). Just goes to show how “para” and “por” mean different things 🙂

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