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Let’s consider the following sentence:

Esta carta fue escrita por Juan.

I know it translates into English as, “This letter was written by Juan.” But won’t it also translate as, “This letter was written in behalf of Juan”?

How do we differentiate between the two meanings in Spanish if both translate as por?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

I understand your confusion, but the ambiguity there is inherent to using the word "por", which has multiple meanings. You would have to use the context to translate. Also, there would be at least another meaning, This letter was written because of Juan.

However, I can say that it would be very rare to actually say that sentence with any but the first meaning This letter was written by Juan. The speaker would try to avoid the ambiguity using different words or adding some explanation. Such as:

Escribí la carta en nombre de Juan (on his behalf)

Escribí la carta por culpa de Juan (negative connotation) or Escribí la carta gracias a Juan (positive connotation) -> (Because of Juan)

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"En lugar de Juan" is not very likely. I'd use "en nombre de Juan" to mean "on his behalf". – Adriano Varoli Piazza Apr 6 '14 at 13:18
You are right, and I will edit my answer accordingly :) – pHonta Apr 7 '14 at 10:01

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