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My local classical music radio station has an occasional feature about music from countries other than the usual central European classical tradition. They recently chose two pieces from Chile one of which was Gracias a la vida which had passed me by despite being so famous that it even has its own substantial entry in the English-language Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gracias_a_la_Vida). It seems to usually be translated as "Thanks to life".

This puzzled me as the preposition a was not what I would have originally chosen followed by an inanimate object. Looking at the entry in the DLE for gracias leads straight to gracia and as far as I can see the only option seems to be gracias a. However looking through previous questions on this site for a possible duplicate I find several examples of gracias por followed by a verb.

So my question is simply what preposition is used after gracias in various circumstances? I am not too worried about finding a translation for the song title as (a) poetry is not obliged to follow the usual rules, (b) I do not want to get side-tracked into the circumstances of the life of its originator Violeta Parra.

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    In fact the DLE UI itself gives an answer to this, since its header says Consulta posible gracias al compromiso con la cultura de la... – fedorqui Feb 28 '18 at 8:34
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Gracias por X is used when you are saying thanks to somebody for X.
Gracias a X is used when you are saying thanks to X for something.

X can be a person or an object or an abstract concept. Yes, usually X is an object in the first case, and usually X is a person in the second case, but not always (and especially not in poetry).

In this case, "Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto", the author is saying thanks to life itself (personifying it, in a way) for giving them so much.
You could rewrite it as "Gracias a la vida por darme tanto", maybe it is clearer that way.

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Gracias a => Thanks to
Gracias por => Thanks for

You use one or the other depending on context, and can even use both together:

Thank(s to) you for bringing me => Gracias a ti por llevarme.

So the song "Gracias a la vida" is giving thanks to life, not for life. "Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto" = "Thanks to life, which has given me so much."

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