Spanish: If You Mess Up Por/Para, Ser/Estar

If a non-native Spanish speaker were speaking Spanish and made the rookie mistake of messing up por vs. para, or ser vs. estar, would he still be understood? Would he look like a gigantic fool?

I think it would be understood.

I’m trying to think of a mistake a non-native English speaker would make that sounds similar to the incorrect use of por/para.

I think most of the time the speaker will be understood by context, even though the meaning may be different. Using soy instead of estoy can change the meaning from “I am sick” to “I am a sickly person,” but most of the time the listener will know what you are trying to say. This page gives some of my favorite examples:

• Estoy cansado, I am tired. Soy cansado, I am a tired person.
• Estoy feliz, I’m happy now. Soy feliz, I am happy by nature.
• Está callada, she’s being quiet. Es callada, she’s introverted.
• No estoy listo, I’m not ready. No soy listo, I’m not a quick thinker.

Perhaps something like saying “I [verb]” rather than “I’m [verb]ing”, which is a common error that changes the meaning of a sentence, but is still usually easily understood from context?

If I had to guess, it might sound to Spanish ears like minor blunders with prepositions sound to our ears. All of the in/out/up/down stuff we add to our words.

Prepositions are what always trip up my Brazilian wife, and it sounds … non-native.

She says things like “in the beach?” with a puzzled look and I respond “at the beach”

My Spanish teacher sternly warned us in class to NOT use saber (vs. conocer) when you are saying that you “know” somebody, because the former means that you know them in the Biblical sense.

So, in response to the OP, yeah.



While I know the difference and am reasonably fluent, I not infrequently have a brain fart and use the wrong one. People still understand me. It’s like using the wrong verb tense or confusing with/by/for in English. People can still pretty much understand you from context.

What happens in English when someone confuses in and on?

Same thing.
ETA:** John DiFool**, the Bible uses conocer “in the Biblical sense”, or at least every single Bible I’ve ever encountered does. Your teacher’s information was wrong. Most people don’t think of conocer as being restricted to the Biblical sense. There are differences in usage but they’re about the nature of the known item (conoces someone or a location, but sabes something;* conozco Pamplona, conozco a mi hermano, conócete a tí mismo; sé química, sé cocinar* - I know Pamplona, I know my brother, know thyself; I know chemistry, I can cook).

There’s always the old standby phrase-- 'Soy… como se dice… WHERE IS THE FUCKING BATHROOM?"

Never works, but fun to watch.

Speaking of the Biblical sense: If you say “Estoy perdido,” yiou are saying “I’m lost” in the sense that you need to know where such-and-such place/street/region is. If you say “Soy perdido,” your Spanish-speaking listener will likely pity you, because that would mean you are not redeemable in the religious sense and you will be eternally condemned. :frowning:

Whenever we used estar instead of ser, my Spanish teacher would always reply “Pero mañana…”

Me: Estoy intelligente.
Her: Pero mañana…

One I see often is that Spanish speakers will sometimes mix up “to do” and “to make” since both are “hacer” in their language.

Ditto in Hebrew, where “do” and “make” are the same verb.

I find this thread interesting, especially concerning the “por / para” element. I’ve never formally learnt Spanish, but have picked up a certain amount of the basics over the years. Until just now, I had imagined that “por” meant “by”, and “para” meant “for” – and I’d always had the deuce of a time keeping straight which was (in my mind, supposedly) which.

Was going to post a remark to that effect on this thread; but decided first to do a quick Google and check that I was basically right about the two words. And found that I wasn’t, and that the whole situation is even more confusing than I’d thought. I now find that they both mean “for”, sort-of, but with some overtones of “by”; and the rules for which one to use, seem to be “situational”. Right now, it’s feeling not much like “ignorance fought”; more, “ignorance revealed, and increased” !

Nah, “soy perdido” is meaningless, or rather, it means “I’m a foreigner and I’m lost”. Soy un perdido would mean “I’m footloose and irresponsible”. There is a similar situation with estoy feliz, mentioned by pravnik, which can be used but is less frequent than estoy contento (I think I’ve heard estoy feliz como una perdiz, which rhymes but isn’t really meaningful unless someone has a meter for partridge happiness, more often than estoy feliz by itself).

These situations where you have two expressions which in theory would mean the same but one is used a lot more than the other, or where certain words always get strung in a very specific way, are called “collocations”. It’s one of my favorite words; it doesn’t explain why we have that kind of things, but at least it labels them neatly.

While it’s more complicated than this, por often has meanings equating to “in exchange for,” “by means of,” “through,” while para tends to mean “for the purpose of.”

And “faire” in French. You sometimes hear French speakers say things like “I need to make laundry” in English.

Spanish speakers are much less inclined to grammatical or syntactical errors, and the kind of poor “ain’t got no” language that is so commonplace in America would never be tolerated. Even the most undereducated Spanish speakers speak the language better than the average American speaks English.

Whether people correct your or not depends on the manners of the listener.

I find Spanish speakers almost never correct my mistakes - which I sometimes would prefer so that I’ll know better next time.

I stand by my assertion. I took a course in Spanish at the local college (El Camino, in Torrance, CA) and the professor used that as an illustration of the difference of meaning between estar and* ser. :)*