Anne Silva

Do you groan inwardly every time your lesson plans say that one of the grammar topics this week is “Por vs. Para”? Do you try to be peppy about the topic, like when you try to convince your kids that going to the dentist is Just That Easy!?

Native-speaking teachers and non-native-speaking teachers alike have grammar topics they Just. Hate. To. Teach. For me, one of those has always been the concept of “por vs. para.” As a non-native speaker, I was in the same position as my students, having to try to make sense of a laundry list of rules about this teeny little topic. And as a student, I remember it blowing my mind that BOTH words could be correct in one situation, but with a subtle change in the shade of meaning. High school foreign language students in general have a bit of an issue with “subtle shades of meaning” the way color-blind people have issues with “subtle shades of cerulean.” How frustrating!

And when I asked my native-speaker Spanish-teacher friends, their answers didn’t usually guide me very well.

“You use por in that sentence,” they would say.

“Ok, but WHY?” I would insist, as though the ancient romance-language gurus had set down a list of reasons etched in stone on the day they decided to invent Spanish.

“Because it sounds right,” they would reason.

Gah.

SO, I propose for you today a forum for all those who have tackled the fearsome Por vs. Para Monster and won… tell us your tales! How do you conquer this beast of a grammar topic? What glimmers of insight have your students found to keep the two straight? How do you keep them saying “This present is for you,” instead of “This present is because of you”? (or vice-versa!) All mnemonics, tricks, magic spells, and the like are welcomed.

And because I would never leave you hanging like that, here’s the way I see it:

VERY roughly speaking, I envision por as the duration of a race, the “during,” the “meantime,” the “journey.” And para, I reckon, is roughly related to the destination, the finish line, the deadline, the end. This isn’t a perfect system, of course, but it’s an image that helps me in case of doubt.

Here is a little table with some more details:

POR

(In my own words)

Example

Cause or reason

your motivation during the action

Corrí el maratón por los beneficios aeróbicos.

Time periods during the day

“during”

Siempre corro por la mañana.

Approximate place

“around here/there”

Mis llaves estaban por aquí.

Movement within an area

“through here/there”

Corro por ese barrio.

PARA

(In my own words)

Example

Purpose

goal (not physical)

Corro para estar en forma.

Recipient of an action

destination of a thing or an action

El premio es para ti.

Opinion

“from where I’m standing”

Para mí, está bien.

Movement toward a place

goal (physical)

Corrí para la meta.

Deadline

goal (time)

Hice la cita para mañana.

Ok, so now it’s your turn! Do you love this metaphor of mine? Hate it? See how it’s as hole-y as an old sock? How do YOU approach this topic? What do you have your students do to practice this topic that seems especially effective?

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