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Portuguese Prepositions “Para” vs. “Por” – When to Use Either

Often, language learners get confused by the Portuguese prepositions para and por. While it is true that both are prepositions of movement, we use them under different circumstances. 

So, what’s the difference between para and por? Here’s a concise answer:

Para indicates movement with an emphasis on direction and final destination, whereas por denotes passage and itinerary. While the former often corresponds to the English preposition “to”, the latter corresponds to either “by” or “through”: 

Para
Esta camioneta vai para Lisboa.
This bus goes to Lisbon. 

Por
A camioneta passa por Leiria. (a caminho de Lisboa)
The bus passes by Leiria. (on its way to Lisbon)

These prepositions’ usage is nonetheless not limited to movement. Below, we’ll look at each of them in greater detail. Read on.

Reading tips! Often, students of Portuguese also feel insecure as to when they should say para vs.  a: Portuguese Prepositions “Para” vs. “A”: Know When to Use Either.

Para

Movement

We use para to indicate movement and mark the direction and final destination:

Ele foi para a escola. 
He went to school.

Este avião vai para a República Checa. 
This plane is bound to the Czech Republic.

Purpose

Besides movement, we also use para to denote intention and purpose:

Eu estou a estudar para arranjar um bom emprego.
I am studying to get a good job.

Recipient

Also, we say para to indicate the recipient:

Este livro é para o André.
This book is for André.

Time

Finally, we use para to indicate the time ahead:

Até para a semana.
I’ll see you next week.

Marquei o restaurante para as 19 horas.
I booked the restaurant for 7pm.

São 15 para as 17 horas.
It’s 20 to 5 pm.

Por

First off, the preposition por contracts with definite articles: 

definite articles oaosas
contracted forms pelo
(por + o)
pela 
(por + a)
pelos 
(por + os)
pelas 
(por + as)

Reading tips! Learn more about Portuguese articles: Portuguese Definite and Indefinite Articles – When to Use Either.

Movement

We use por to indicate passage, or in other words, to denote an on-the-go transitory state. Here are a few examples: 

Hoje de manhã passaste por mim no centro. Não me viste?
This morning you passed me by in the city center. Haven’t you seen me?

Ontem passei pelo supermercado para comprar cerveja.
Yesterday, I dropped by the supermarket to buy some beer.

We also use por when we talk about a route or itinerary: 

Vai por Coimbra, a paisagem é mais agradável.
Go via Coimbra, the landscape is more pleasant.

Ele foi pela estrada nova.
He took the new road.

Place

We use por to denote uncertain, non-specific whereabouts. In other words,  por implies spatial vagueness. It can also convey that the speaker is not so familiar with the place in point:

Ela está a viajar por África.
She’s traveling in África

Ele vive por Lisboa.
He lives somewhere in Lisbon.  

Time

We use por to denote time approximation: 

Ela chega hoje de Paris pelas 13h.
She arrives today from Paris around 3 pm.

Finally, we also use por to refer to a time period:

Ela fica na Suécia por dois anos.
She will stay in Sweden for two years.

Reading tips! Learn more about these and other prepositions: Basic Portuguese Prepositions and Contractions: An Inclusive Usage Rundown.

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