Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Tell Me, What Is That Paper For?

Imagine you are talking to a relative, a friend or a colleague. Maybe you have a piece of paper in your hand. The other person is curious as to what that paper is for and says to you something like: "tell me, what is that paper for?".

In Spanish, he/ she could choose to be less formal and say to you:
Dime, ¿para qué es ese papel?

On the other hand, he/ she could choose to be more formal and say to you:
Dígame, ¿para qué es ese papel?

The question is an invitation for you to say what is the purpose of the piece of paper you are holding in your hand. When you say what the purpose of something is, you DO NOT need to be concerned about the level of formality in the other person's question. Your main concern should be about communicating the purpose of the item in question. Perhaps you want to say that the paper is for the purpose of:

  • Writing something;
  • Making some list list;
  • Create some graph;
  • Making a photocopy;
  • Printing something;
  • Throwing in the waste basket;

Here are some examples of what you could say and practise the use of “para”:
  • Este papel es para escribir una carta* (this paper is for writing a letter);
  • Este papel es para hacer la lista de la compra* (this paper is for making the shopping list);
  • Este papel es para crear un guión gráfico* (this paper is for creating a storyboard);
  • Este papel es para hacer una fotocopia* (this paper is for making a photocopy);
  • Este papel es para imprimir un documento* (this paper is for printing a document);
  • Este papel es para tirarlo a la papelera* (this paper is for throwing in the waste basket);

Now you should practice further the use of “para” by replying to someone who says to you:
Dime, ¿para qué es ese papel?

*Please see grammar below

The use of “para” and “por” often causes some confusion amongst learners of Spanish. This blog posts deals with the uses of “para”. A separate series of blog posts is dedicated to the uses of “por”.

In this post we look at a number of situations in which “para” is commonly used. “Para” is commonly used in the following cases:

    1. Objective
In Spanish, “para” is often used before an infinitive used to express the objective of the action of a verb. In such cases, the meaning of “para” is something like “in order to... “.

For example:
  • Estudio español para poder hablarlo (I study Spanish in order to be able to speak it);
  • Tienes que comer menos para adelgazar (you have to eat less in order to loose weight);
  • Pedro va al gimnasio para mantenerse en forma (Pedro goes to the gym in order to keep fit);

    2. Purpose
In Spanish, “para” is often used with verbs such as “ser”/ “estar” to express the purpose of something.

For example:
  • Este lápiz es para escribir (this pencil is for writing);
  • Estamos para ayudar (we are here to help);
  • La copa es para el vino (the glass is for the wine);

    3. Direction/ Destination
In Spanish, “para” is often used with verbs such as “ir”/ “venir”/ “salir” and similar verbs and before the name of a place. In such cases, “para” means something like “towards“/ “for” and identifies a direction or destination.

For example:
  • El autobús va para Madrid (the bus is going to/ towards Madrid);
  • ¿Venís para Barcelona? (are you coming to Barcelona?);
  • Pedro salió para Vigo (Pedro departed for Vigo);

4. Intended Recipient
In Spanish, “para” is often before the name of a person or object to indicate the intended recipient of something. In such cases, “para” means something like “for“.

For example:
  • El regalo es para mi madre (the present is for my mother);
  • ¿Compraste ese libro para Pedro? (did you buy that book for Pedro?);
  • Antonio me dio una camisa para ti (Antonio gave me a shirt for you);

5. Deadline
In Spanish, “para” is often used before a time expression to indicate a deadline for some action. In such cases, “para” means something like “for“/ “by”.

For example:
  • Los deberes de español son para mañana (my Spanish homework is due tomorrow);
  • Entregaré este trabajo para el viernes (I will hand in this work by Friday);
  • Pagaré la matrícula para el día quince (I will pay the registration fee by the 15th);

6. Contrasting
In Spanish, “para” is often used to contrast some characteristic of an individual against the same characteristic of a group the individual belongs to. In such cases the meaning of “para” is something like “for“/ “compared with others... “.

For example:
  • Para un perro Pluto no ladra nada (for a dog Pluto does not bark at all);
  • Para tu edad te ves muy bien (for your age you look really well);
  • Para esa marca vuestro coche está muy bien (for that make, your car is very nice);

7. Readiness/ Disposition
In Spanish, “para” is often used with verb “estar” and followed by an infinitive to express an action which is about to occur. In this case, “estar para” means something like “to be just about to...

For example:
  • Estámos para subir al avión (we are about to board the plane);
  • Estuve para quedarme en casa (I was just about to stay at home);
  • Estoy para salir de un momento a otro (I am just about to leave);

8. Duration
In Spanish, “para” is often used with verb “tener” and followed by the name of period of time to express what is remaining of an activity.

For example:
  • En este proyecto tenemos para un mes (this project will take us a month/ we have a month left to finish it);
  • Pedro tiene para rato* (Pedro is expected to remain where he is for a while);
  • Con esta lección de español tengo para un par de días (this Spanish lesson will take me a couple of days/ I should have finished it in a couple of days);

*NB Please note idiom “tener para rato

    9. Idiomatic Expressions
Para” is used in many idiomatic expressions, such as:

  • Para eso... (for that...)*
    • Example: ¿Para eso quieres que vaya? (you want me to go just for that?);
  • ¿Para qué... ? (what for... ?)
    • Example: ¿Para qué estudias español? (what are you studying Spanish for?);
  • Para qué... (so that...)
    • Example: Estudio españal para que mis amigos españoles me puedan entender (I study Spanish so that my Spanish friends can understand me);

*NB Often used to pour scorn on something/ to indicate that something is not worth the bother.

Now you should practice the uses of “para” with some examples of your own.

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