How To Use the Preposition 'Para'

Spanish for Beginners

Cake for Spanish lesson on 'para'
El pastel estará listo para la boda. (The cake will be ready for the wedding.). Nacho/Creative Commons.

Para is one of the most common Spanish prepositions, but it can also be one of the most confusing to English speakers. That is because it is usually translated as "for," and so is the preposition por, and they are very seldom interchangeable.

As a beginner, it is probably best to learn para and por separately and to think of para as a word that usually indicates purpose or destination, rather than simply as a translation for "for." So in the examples of para usage that are given below, a translation (sometimes awkward) using a word or phrase other than "for" is given, in addition to a translation using "for." By learning how para is used rather than how it is usually translated, you will eliminate much of the confusion.

Para Meaning 'In Order To'

When para is the equivalent of "in order to," it is followed by an infinitive.

  • Viajamos para aprender español. (We travel in order to learn Spanish. We travel for learning Spanish.)
  • Vive para comer. (He lives in order to eat. He lives for eating.)
  • Hay un plan maestro para destruir la civilización como la conocemos. (There is a master plan in order to destroy civilization as we know it. There is a master plan for destroying civilization as we know it.)

Para for Indicating Purpose or Usefulness

The preposition can be used quite flexibly to indicate purpose, intent, usefulness or need. It is often used in such a way that there's no simple one-word English equivalent.

  • Estudia para dentista. (She is studying to become a dentist. She is studying for the dental profession.)
  • Quisiera una bicicleta para dos. (I'd like a bicycle for two. I'd like a bicycle for the purpose of carrying two.)
  • Ganaron un viaje para dos. (They won a trip for two. They won a trip to be used by two.)
  • Es hecho para niños. (It is made for children. It is made to be used by children.)
  • El poema fue escrito para su esposa. (The poem was written for his wife. The poem was written with his wife as the intended recipient.)
  • Feliz cumpleaños para ti. (Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday for you.)
  • Tenemos agua para una semana. (We have water for a week. We have water intended to last a week.)
  • ¿Para qué estudias? (Why do you study? For what purpose do you study?)

Using Para With Destinations

One specific way in which para is used to indicate intent is with destinations. This is a specific way of indicating intention. In some of these cases, para can be used interchangeably with a, meaning "to."

  • Salimos para Londres. (We are leaving to go to London. We are leaving for London.)
  • No voy para casa. (I am not going home. I am not headed for home.)
  • ¿Para dónde va el taxi? (Where does the taxi go to? Note that Spanish cannot end a sentence with a preposition in the way that English can.)

Using Para for 'No Later Than' or 'By'

In time statements, para can be used to indicate intent for completion of an action by a certain time. Translations can include "no later than," "around," "about" and "by."

  • La casa estará lista para el sábado. (The house will be ready no later than Saturday. The house will be ready by Saturday. The house will be ready for Saturday.)
  • Es necesario preparar el perro para la llegada de tu bebé. (It is necessary to prepare you dog for the arrival of your baby. It is necessary to prepare your dog by the time your baby arrives.)
  • El pastel estará listo para la boda. (The cake will be ready by the wedding. The cake will be ready before the wedding. The cake will be ready for the wedding.)
  • Llegamos para las cinco. (We're arriving around 5. We're arriving about 5. We're arriving for activities at 5.)

Using Para To Mean 'Considering'

Another use of para is to indicate perspective, the equivalent of words or phrases such as "considering," "in light of the fact" or "in view of":

  • Para niño, es inteligente. (Considering that he's a child, he's intelligent. For a child, he's intelligent.)
  • Es caro para un papel. (It's expensive in view of the fact it's a sheet of paper. It's expensive for a sheet of paper.)

Using Para With Personal Reactions

This is one way of indicating how a person feels or reacts to something:

  • Para ella, es difícil. (To her, it's difficult. For her, it's difficult.)
  • No es justo para mí. (It isn't right to me. It doesn't seem right to me. It isn't right for me.)