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One of the many meanings of por is in exchange for. Ex.:

Compré una bufanda por diez dólares. I bought a scarf in exchange for ten dollars.

In a Spanish question, por qué means why.

¿Por qué compraste la bufanda? Why did you buy the scarf?

After asking why someone bought the scarf, one might ask for how much/ in exchange for what did the person buy it.

To form this question, por and qué are combined to create por qué, the for how much-part of the question. But of course this part is exactly the same as por qué which asks why.

So how can one ask For how much did you buy the scarf? without asking Why did you buy the scarf? ?

  • "For what did you buy the scarf?," seems to entertain both interpretations. – Kristopher Aug 24 '16 at 17:59
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As you have it is technically perfectly grammatically fine, although as you know, the overwhelming interpretation is going to be why.

If we're talking a countable thing for which we expect a numerical answer (as we almost always are with money), your best bet is to use the question word cuánto:

¿Por cuánto compraste ... ?

But if you're expecting a bartering-style answer, you could add in a generic noun that would break the Why? possibility:

¿Por qué cosa compraste ... ?

But, I don't think I've really ever heard this and I imagine it would still sound a bit odd to the modern ear. Alternatively, you could finish with the question rather than start with it and stress/intonation/flow will indicate whether we mean because (analogous to a why? question) or for/in exchange for:

Compraste la bufanda por... ¿qué?
— Por un gorro de lana.
(versus)
Compraste la bufanda porque...
— Pues porque tenía frío.

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  • 1
    We don't use ¿Por qué cosa compraste ... ? we use ¿Por qué compraste ... ? – Sergio Velásquez Jul 18 '15 at 16:11
  • @sergiovelásquez please read my answer: "But I don't think I've ever heard this and it would sound a bit odd." Context almost always will distinguish ¿por qué... (why?) from ¿por qué... (in exchange for what?). The answer was in regards to how to force a distinction. Without any context, it is impossible to know whether ¿por qué compraste la bufanda? means why did you buy it? or what did you buy it in exchange for?, though the average native will almost certainly read it as why?. – user0721090601 Jul 18 '15 at 16:51
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    I did read it before answer, I was just confirming that we (natives) don't use "por qué cosa" and that's the reason why you've ever heard it. ;) – Sergio Velásquez Jul 18 '15 at 16:57
  • I must clarify my comment: ¿Por qué motivo...?, ¿Por qué razón.. ?, ¿Por qué diablos.. ? are valids and also ¿Para qué? when using what for...? – Sergio Velásquez Jul 18 '15 at 17:14
  • @SergioVelásquez in general I feel it's a bad idea on SLU (or ELU, etc) to answer with "you'll never hear..." because of the various dialects (unless you specify the dialect). Generally as soon as you say "no one ever says that", someone from [insert other country] will chime in letting you know that it is perfectly normal in their part of the world. That's why I and most of the regular people answering on here will use some "wiggle words" in our answers. – user0721090601 Jul 18 '15 at 17:16
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Actually the use of por qué, porque, por que and porqué has its rules and it's not that easy for some people (when writing it).

por qué is used to ask for the reason why (why someone bought the scarf), so the following is right.

¿Por qué compraste la bufanda? -> Why did you buy the scarf?

To ask for how much you should use cuánto or por cuánto

¿Por cuánto compraste la bufanda? -> For how much did you buy the scarf?
¿Cuánto te (le) costó la bufanda? -> How much did the scarf cost?
¿Cuánto te (le) costó? -> How much was it? or How much did it cost? (After asking why)

About in exchange for what did the person buy it, in exchange for what is replaced by a cambio de qué in most cases. some examples:

in exchange of what did you gave her your pen? 
(¿A cambio de qué le diste tu lapicero?) 

You may answer:

in exchange of nothing, or in exchange of her eraser.
a cambio de nada, a cambio de su borrador.

in exchange for what can be replaced by por qué to ask the reason why too but in those cases I think you use to use why instead of in exchange for what, and so: ¿por qué le diste tu lapicero? is valid.

To form this question, por and qué are combined to create por qué, the for how much-part of the question. But of course this part is exactly the same as por qué which asks why.

To be conclusve about your specific question:

So how can one ask For how much did you buy the scarf? without asking Why did you buy the scarf?

¿Cuánto te valió la bufanda?
¿Cuánto te costó la bufanda?
¿Por cuánto compraste la bufanda?

Note: valer, costar mean the same in this case.

(Editions: English grammar.)

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  • En realidad, valer no es lo mismo exactamente; alguien que se dedique a la compra y venta de algo, asignará un valor (lo que vale) a cada artículo y tratará que le cueste (lo que cuesta) menos de ese valor para obtener un rendimiento al vender. ¿Cuánto te valió la bufanda? me parece incorrecto en ese contexto: ahí valer podría significar "servir", en lugar de "costar". – Blas Soriano Jul 18 '15 at 16:51
  • No, no es lo mismo, por eso anoté que en este caso. Si yo voy a comprar una bufanda, generalmente, no la voy a vender, por lo que realmente puedo decir que me valió tanto. Valer se puede usar en términos monetarios también. Revisa en el sitio de la RAE. En este caso valer no significa servir. – Sergio Velásquez Jul 18 '15 at 17:03

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