5

Is there any difference in the phrases "uno a uno" and "uno por uno?"

If not, are there other situations where "a" and "por" are interchangeable?

7

According to the DRAE, the only difference is the degree to which one considers the elements separate (I've clipped irrelevant entries)

uno1, na
uno, na a uno, na. 1. loc. adv. U. para explicar la separación o distinción por orden de personas y cosas.
uno, na por uno, na. 1. loc. adv. uno, na a uno, na U. para expresar mayor separación o distinción.

You can also use de uno/a en uno/a with the same meaning as uno/a a uno/a (it is defined without any notes distinguishing it). If you specifically use una por una it can also mean "en todo caso, en realidad, efectivamente" although that usage is old fashioned. In all cases, we may presume the meaning to be understood and likely used pan-hispanicly as the entries lack regional tags.

From Google N-Grams we can see that the one using a surged in usage about a century ago, but using por is still used about 35-40% of the time. Using de/en is pretty consistent over time, although only about 5-10% of instances.

Basically, we can say that uno/a a uno/a is the most common, but that there should be no problem using uno/a por uno/a.

  • 2
    I did not know that you could group results in Ngram using the plus (+) sign! – Charlie Feb 15 '17 at 7:31
  • 1
    @CarlosAlejo you can also use parentheses, minus, and division. So if you want to find the proportion of use between a and b, you can use a/(a+b),b/(a+b). Doing it for more than two can be a bit trick, since you run out of space (max query length is 256), but here's with just the masculine forms: books.google.com/ngrams/… – user0721090601 Feb 15 '17 at 19:17

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