Learn the Difference Between 'Por Qué' and 'Para Qué' in Spanish

Asking 'Why' and 'What Reason,' and Stating 'Because'

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Erichsen, Gerald. "Learn the Difference Between 'Por Qué' and 'Para Qué' in Spanish." ThoughtCo, Oct. 20, 2017, thoughtco.com/por-que-vs-para-que-3079326. Erichsen, Gerald. (2017, October 20). Learn the Difference Between 'Por Qué' and 'Para Qué' in Spanish. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/por-que-vs-para-que-3079326 Erichsen, Gerald. "Learn the Difference Between 'Por Qué' and 'Para Qué' in Spanish." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/por-que-vs-para-que-3079326 (accessed October 21, 2017).
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Although both para qué and por qué used in questions in Spanish are usually translated as "why," there is a subtle difference in meaning between them. Simply, the question ¿Por que? might be thought of as "Why?" the question ¿Para qué? might be thought of as "What for?"

Por qué addresses the cause of something and looks back to the reason or motivation for the action. Para qué looks forward to the purpose, goal, objective or intention of something.

Note that there are four different ways to write por qué, such as one word, two words, with and without an accent over the e, and there are differences in meaning.

Ways to Use Para Qué and Por Qué

It is often possible to substitute por qué for para qué, but not always the other way around. In situations where por qué is substituted for para qué, the point of emphasis in the sentence changes.

Spanish SentenceEnglish Translation
¿Para qué vas al dentista?Why are you going to the dentist? [For what reason?]
¿Para qué quiere pagar más?Why does he want to pay more? [For what purpose?]
¿Para qué estudias español? ¿Para viajar?Why to do study Spanish? For travel? [For what reason?]
¿Por qué murió el soldado?What caused the soldier to die?
¿Para qué murió el soldado?For what purpose did the soldier die?
¿Por qué ganó la elección?What caused her to win the election? 
¿Para qué ganó la elección?For what purpose did she win the election?
¿Por qué es eso?Why is that?
¿Para qué es eso?What's that for?
¿Por qué nieva mucho más en Nueva York que en Madrid?Why does it snow much more in New York than in Madrid?
¿Por qué hay pocos trompetistas en comparación con otros  instrumentistas?Why are there few trumpeters in comparison with other instrumentalists?
¿Por qué brilla el sol?Why does the sun shine?

The Difference between Por Qué, Porque, Por Que, El Porqué

Para qué and por qué are somewhat easier to differentiate, but what happens when there are four words spelled almost exactly the same way and each with slightly different meanings: por qué, porque, por que and porqué? Something as simple as an accent mark can make all the difference in a sentence.

Por qué is, together with porque, one of the most often used of the four porques. It means “why,” very much the same way as it is used in English. When you ask a question using “why,” and you get an answer beginning with, “because," that's a good way to remember what porque, as one word, with no accent, means.

Spanish SentenceEnglish Translation
¿Por qué has venido? Porque tengo tiempo libre. Why have you come? Because I have some free time.
¿Por qué no comes pizza? Porque no tengo hambre.Why have you come? Because I have some free time.
¿Por qué te vas? Porque ya es muy tarde. Why are you leaving? Because it is too late already.

El porqué is a Spanish noun meaning "the reason." It is written with an accent mark over the e and requires the definitive article el, meaning "the." For example, No entiendo el porqué de tu decisión, which means, "I do not understand the reason behind your decision."

Por quetwo words without an accent mark, is the least commonly used. It can be translated as “for which.” It is used as a prepositional phrase. For example, Este es el motivo por que no llamé, translating to, "This is the reason for which I didn't call."