Para is one of the most useful and common prepositions in Spanish, 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 the two prepositions separately and to think of para as a preposition 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 find it easier to learn in the long run.
Here, then, are the most common uses of para:
To mean "in order to": When used in this way, it is followed by an infinitive.
- Examples: 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.)
To indicate purpose, intent, usefulness or need: The preposition can be used quite flexibly in this regard, in many cases being used in such a way that there is no simple one-word English equivalent.
- Examples: 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 made with the intent that two people use it.) 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 enough to last a week.) ¿Para qué estudias? (Why do you study? For what purpose do you study?)
To indicate a destination: This is a specific way of indicating intention. In some of these cases, para can be used interchangeably with a, meaning "to."
- Examples: 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?)
To mean "no later than" or "by": As can be seen by the examples, this is another way of indicating intent. In some contexts, para can mean "around" or "about" a certain time.
- Examples: 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.) 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.)
To mean "considering" or "in view of":
- Examples: 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.)
To indicate a personal reaction:
- Examples: 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.)
With estar to mean "to be about to" or "to be ready to": This phrase is followed by the infinitive.
- Examples: Estoy para salir. (I'm ready to leave. I am about to leave.) Estamos para hacer negocios. (We're ready to do business. We're ready for doing business.)