How to Use Por and Para in Portuguese
You already know there must be a difference between “por” and “para” in Portuguese. But the question that remains is: what’s the difference? Read on and find out.
The mark of the truly intelligent learner isn’t perfection but rather continual progress and refining. They keep on plowing ahead when most settle for whatever they have now.
So, let’s add some refining to the question today.
After reading this article, you’ll be able to 1) distinguish between “por” and “para” in Portuguese and 2) use them properly most of the time.
Using Para in Portuguese
First of all, you should keep in mind that there is no hard and fast rule for using those words. What we have are predictions and common situations in which they occur. You should be right 90% of the time if you abide by those general guidelines.
The remaining 10%, though, is a problem even for Brazilians from time to time. So, don’t worry.
Expressing A Goal or Purpose
When you use “para” in Portuguese, you can express a finality or goal. It’s similar to the English phrase “in order to.”
Let’s take a look at some examples. You’ll see that some of the translations are a bit jarring in English. I did so to help you see how we express these ideas in Portuguese. And that’s true for all the other examples that I include in this article.
Estou aqui para falar com você. (I’m here to speak with you.)
- Ela quer comprar o livro para ler antes da prova. (She wants to buy the book in order to read it before the exam.)
- Para que esse nariz tão grande? (Why such a big nose?)
- É para cheirar você melhor. (To smell you better.)
Talking About A Point in Time
If you’re talking about a specific point in time, then you can also use “para.” But in this situation, it’s equivalent to “for” rather than “at.”
- Estou preparando a comida para mais tarde. (I am preparing the food for later.)
- Para quando é esse trabalho? (When is this job for?)
- É para ontem. (It’s for yesterday.)
Expressing Destination or Direction
This is quite similar to English. Whenever you’re expressing something moving from point A to point B, “para” is the go-to preposition (cross-linguistic pun intended).
- Estou indo para a praia. (I’m going to the beach.)
- Ela viajou para os Estados Unidos. (She traveled to the United States.)
- É melhor você olhar para os dois lados antes de atravessar a rua. (You had better look [at] both ways before going across the street.)
As you can see, the third example deals with direction without a movement.
In English, the preposition is understood in the expression “look both ways.” But in Portuguese you have to make it clear by placing a preposition close to the verb.
Using “Por” in Portuguese
Again, you can’t rely on any hard and fast rules when using this word in Portuguese.
But you can count on these general guidelines. Most of the time, you’ll be right. Only practice will tell whether you’ll do it right every time.
This one preposition can be trickier than “para.” It roughly corresponds to four prepositions in English – for, by, out of, through. Pay close attention to this section, and print it if you find it necessary.
Let’s took a look at some situations in which “por” needs to be used.
And remember the simple math:
- Por + o / a = pelo or pela.
Expressing the Way by Which You Go
This is a bit tricky. Sometimes “em” (in) can be used, sometimes “por” can be used, and in some situations, both can be employed interchangeably.
If you use “por” you’ll be right most of the time. The only way that you can truly master this that I can think of is by reading a lot and taking notes on how native speakers use it.
- Por favor, entre pela porta dos fundos. (Please, go in through the back door.)
- O gato passa pela portinhola. (The cat goes through the cat door.)
- Eu passei de carro pela ponte do Brooklyn quando fui a Manhattan. (I drove by the Brooklyn Bridge when I went to Manhattan.)
- Ai, já passei por quinze departamentos e nada de ver a Carla. (Argh, I’ve been to fifteen departments and they couldn’t find Carla.)
- Você está procurando a Carla? Ela passou por aqui faz pouco tempo. (Are you looking for Carla? She’s been here not long ago.)
In Place of, Instead of
This one is tricky as well – and what isn’t tricky in Portuguese? – because there are some situations in which “para” and “por” are both acceptable and change little in meaning.
Usually, when you want to express that something is done for the benefit of someone, para is the preposition you need.
But when something is done in place of someone else – when you are a stand-in, for example – you need to use “por”.
- Estou fazendo isso para você.
- Estou fazendo isso por você.
Both sentences translate as “I’m doing this for you.” But 1) expresses “for your benefit,” and 2) expresses “for you, you should’ve done that, not me, but I did this for you.”
Some more examples:
- Você pode fazer esse trabalho por mim? Estou tão ocupado. (Can you do this job for me? I’m so busy.)
- Ele falou por todos no país. (He spoke for everybody in the country.)
Expressing Manner or Way by Which Something is Done
This one is easy. When you need to express the means or the instrument that someone uses to carry out an action, you can use “por.”
- A Mariazinha é muito responsável. Ela nunca faz as coisas pela metade. (Little Mary is very responsible. She never does things “by half.” – halfway, incompletely)
- Você pode me passar essas informações por e-mail? (Can you send me this info by email?)
- Infelizmente não dá. São informações importantes, elas têm que ir pelo correio. (Unfortunately I can’t. It’s important information, it must go by mail.)
Indicating Value or Price
This one is simple. When you need to talk about the price or the value of something – how much you paid for something, how much something is being sold for –, you need this preposition.
- Eu paguei muito caro por esse curso. Agora vou ter que concluí-lo. (I paid a lot for this course. Now I have to finish it.)
- Por quanto você comprou esse carro? Gostaria de comprar um igual. (How much did you buy this car for? I’d like to buy one similar.)
When your sentence can answer the question “why?” then you need this preposition as well.
- Você viu o que o Pedro fez pela Paula? Ele comprou uma casa, um carro, aprendeu a cozinhar e ainda continuou trabalhando na mesma empresa por muito tempo. Por que será que ele fez isso? Ele era tão irresponsável. (Did you see what Peter did for Paula? He bought a house, a car, you learn how to cook and even continued to work at the same company for a long time. I wonder why he did it. He was so irresponsible.)
- Ah, ele fez isso por amor. (Oh, he did it for love.)
In English, sometimes also see this expressed as ” out of.” I’m doing this out of kindness would be “estou fazendo isso por gentileza.”
Expressing the Passive Voice
If English is your native language – or if it’s your dominant language –, you may have made this mistake.
- O livro foi escrito para Paulo Coelho. (x wrong! x)
The doer of something in the passive sentence is indicated by the preposition “por.” Never by any other word. You may have already said “para.” That’s a mistake you can avoid from now on.
- O Alquimista foi escrito por/pelo Paulo Coelho. (The Alchemist was written by Paulo Coelho.)
- Esta apresentação foi preparada por mim. (This presentation was prepared by me.)
When you’re expressing duration in Portuguese, sometimes you can drop the preposition “por.” Especially in informal situations. But in writing, if you want to make it clear, always use the preposition.
- Hoje eu estudei português por duas horas e depois dormi um pouco. (Today I studied Portuguese for two hours and then slept a little bit.)
- Ai, preciso ir ao banheiro… (Oh, I need to go to the toilet.)
- Precisamos de você aqui. Por quanto tempo você ainda pode aguentar? (We need you here. For how long can you still hold yourself?)
- Eu… já não preciso ir ao banheiro. (I… I don’t need to go to the toilet anymore.)
Again, there is no hard and fast rule, but there are guidelines to make it easy for you to use por and para in Portuguese.
You can get rid of all guessing and refer back to this short guide.
And to take it even further, you can also take a look at the guide of using prepositions with verbs, which will take you one step further toward more confidence in speaking.
And if you want to have an essential tool to master the Portuguese tenses, grab your free grammar book right now. But hurry – I may have to take it down anytime. Other people have paid for it, and it wouldn’t be fair for me to keep it there too long.