Para / por

November 15, 2008 at 12:42 am 3 comments


If you’re like me you’ve probably found yourself stuck when speaking Portuguese trying to work out if the correct preposition is ´por´ or ´para´. The problem is, especially with por, that there are no single English equivelents. But, before we get to annoyed, we’d do well to remember that English prepositions are even more bountiful and confusing. (for example: the subtle differences between – good at, good with, good to, good for).

In terms of choosing which preposition to use – ‘por’ or ‘para’ – there are some guidelines that work most of the time, but you’ll still encounter the occasional blip or anomaly that doesn’t seem to make sense… you’ll just have to accept language is like that sometimes.

For the basis of this, I borrowed from Maria Fernanda Allen’s book Portuguese in Three Months. It is important to remember from the outset that por forms a contraction with the indefinite article in front of it. Por + a = pela, Por + o = pelo. Sometimes para is shortened to para + a = pra, Para + o = pro.

Uses of por
On behalf of…, on account of…
Eu pago a conta por você (I will pay the Bill for you).
Pela amor de Deus (For the Love of God!)

In Exchange
Troco este casaco pelo seu chapéu (I Will give you this coat for your hat)

In expressions of time for duration, frequency and as a marker.
Eles vieram por duas semanas (They came for two weeks).
Ele vai a Paris duas vezes por semana (He goes to Paris twice a week/two times per week).
Pela primeira vez, vi que ela era bonita. (For the first time, I noticed she was pretty).

Meaning by, through, along, via, over.
Vou pela praia. (I am going along the beach)
Está por ai? (Is it over there?)
Viajo a Portugal por França (I travel to Portugal through/via/by France.
Vamos pela TAP, naturalmente. (We’re going by TAP, of course).

Uses of para
Eu vou para casa (I’m going home).
These flowers are for you (Estas flores são para ti).
Parabens para você (Congratulations to you!)
Ele vai pra onde? (Where’s he going to?)

Esse trabalho e muito dificil para me. (This work is very difficult for me).


To conclude, generally para is more direct and grounded in real things. It’s like an arrow pointing TO the subject (…preparado para voce = prepared for you = somebody prepared it for you). Por is more indirect and often refers to concepts. At times, it’s like an arrow pointing AWAY from the subject. (…preparado por voce = prepared by you = you prepared it for somebody)

Other common examples to illustrate the difference between por and para are:

Escrito por voce (written by you) versus Escrito para voce (written for you)
Eu vou orar para Deus por voces (I will pray to God for you).

As Snoopy says in the cartoon above…
Por outro lado (lit. by the other side OR on the other hand ) versus Vá pro outro lado (Go to the other side).


Entry filed under: Essential words, Grammar. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

Another globo quiz… R.E.M. in Brazil

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Zamo Zwane  |  May 7, 2009 at 10:45 am

    What is the meaning of … “Para Bens a vocé.”

  • 2. maclure  |  May 7, 2009 at 11:05 am

    Probably that should be one worred – Parabens = congratulations.
    “a” is also a preposition (confusingly) meaning “to” so your message says “congratulations to you”.

    • 3. Zamo Zwane  |  May 7, 2009 at 11:22 am

      Thank you very much for this.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

They don’t speak Spanish, you know!

This website has practice activities for people learning Brazilian Portuguese at Intermediate level or higher. Please browse around or click on ABOUT to find out more about how to get the most out of the site.

%d bloggers like this: