The sentence

Tengo un libro por ti

indicates that I will give you something and giving is exchanging.

My mom taught me that when you are thanking someone for something you always say gracias por. That makes sense because someone exchanged something to you by giving you something and you are thanking them for exchanging something to you. "Por" is used for exchanges.

Then I said Tengo un libro por ti and my mom corrected me saying para ti. That makes no sense because I have a book for someone which means I am going to exchange this book to them by giving it to them.

Tengo un libro por ti. Gracias por el libro.

I need an explanation for why it is Tengo un libro para ti instead of Tengo un libro por ti because "para" is not used for exchanges.

Para actually translates to "in order to". Like this:

Necesito un lapiz para hacer mi tarea.

Please help me.

  • 3
    The question is: why does English use the same word (for) for two different meanings? ;)
    – nanaki
    Jul 7, 2021 at 11:53
  • 4
    "Overloading" a word is by no means unique to English, but as nanaki writes, it's key here. "For" has two very different meanings here, and there are many more (in "it rained for two weeks", "for" would be translated "durante", neither "para" nor "por"). Imagine the English learner who can't figure out why all these completely different concepts all map to a single word "for"! Jul 7, 2021 at 14:39
  • Tengo un libro por tí means: I have a book because of you or due to you. Tengo un libro para ti is: I have a book for you. The two ideas are not the same at all in English or Spanish.
    – Lambie
    Jul 8, 2021 at 17:11
  • 3
    The sentence Tengo un libro por ti indicates that I will give you something and giving is exchanging. No, it doesn't
    – c.p.
    Jul 8, 2021 at 17:42
  • There is no exchanging here. Tengo um coche (o carro) por ti. Si no fuera por ti, no lo tendria. I have a car because of you. If it weren't for you, I wouldn't have one.
    – Lambie
    Jul 8, 2021 at 18:10

9 Answers 9


Something that has helped me to distinguish when to use para and when to use por is the idea of "direction." Use para to indicate that whatever the sentence is saying is directed towards the object of "para".

  • Tengo este libro para ti. = I have this book for you. (book --> you)

  • Necesito un lapiz para hacer mi tarea. = I need a pencil to do my homework. (pencil --> homework)

  • ¿Qué tren debería tomar para ir a Marrakech? = Which train should I take to go to Marrikesh? (train --> go)

Use "por" when its object is giving rise to whatever is going on in the sentence.

  • Podíamos comprar dos kilos por un dólar. = We used to be able to buy two kilos for a dollar. ($1 --> ability to buy)

  • Gracias por su atención. = Thank you for your attention. (your attention --> gratitude)

  • Lo conocí por casualidad. = I met him by chance. (chance --> meeting)

A great example of this is the song "Es por tí" by Juanes. Before learning this rule, I thought the song was saying "for you." Instead, it means "because of you," which makes the song much more meaningful for me.

Y es por ti
que late mi corazón = And because of you my heart beats

Y es por ti
que brillan mis ojos hoy = And because of you my eyes shine

Y es por ti
que he vuelto a hablar de amor = And because of you I talk of love again

Y es por ti
que calma mi dolor = And because of you my pain subsides

Of course, this and all other "rules" are just models to predict how a native speaker would talk. They are not laws or morals. The rules don't mould the language. Language just is, and we use rules to try to describe it.

Your "exchange" rule helps to predict when por is used. For me, this "direction" rule works more generally, but even it only describes a part of the difference between para and por.

  • Another rule one can use is to try to swap the "for" by "to". If the sentence makes some sense, even if it is weird, then you should probably use "para".
    – T. Sar
    Jul 7, 2021 at 20:17
  • 1
    It's either "podíamos" (and in that case I would translate it as "we used to be able to") or "We could buy" (which is ambiguous in English, as it could be talking about the past or about the future). Jul 9, 2021 at 8:12
  • I think now I understand better why La Bamba says "Por ti seré". Thank you! Jul 9, 2021 at 9:51
  • @MartinArgerami ¡Gracias por las correcciones!
    – hcbowman
    Jul 9, 2021 at 14:06
  • ‘Tengo un/este libro para ti’/'Te conseguí este libro'/'Te compré este libro' => ‘I got this book for you’.

  • ‘Tengo este libro por ti’ => ‘I started reading this book because of you.’/ I kept this book to remind me/to never forget you..

  • Comencé a+verb+gracias a ti/por tu culpa/debido a ti/por tu influencia/por ti = I began/started to x because of you.

  • I’ll trade you this book FOR that book.

  • Tengo este libro PARA intercambiar(+verb)

  • Te lo cambio POR este libro(+sth)

  • Te lo cambio POR este.

  • Te cambio este libro.

  • Te cambio esto por eso.

  • In exchange for this.

POR is used to talk about exchanges but ‘Tengo un libro PARA ti’ doesn't mean you have to get a book in return and POR makes no sense in this context.


"Tengo un libro por ti" lo que indica es que el libro lo obtuvo por algo que esa otra persona hizo o dijo.

"Tengo un libro para ti", lo que indica es que el libro es para dárselo a una persona.


I think that this statement is not correct: "Giving is exchanging". At least not according to the Oxford Dictionary

Exchange Noun
1 An act of giving one thing and receiving another (especially of the same kind) in return.

Exchange = Giving + Receiving.

But that's not relevant for the question.

In this context para is translated as for and not as in order to.

I have a book for you / Tengo un libro para ti.

"Por ti" means "because of you" while "para ti" means "for you".


The confusion here is due to the fact that the meaning of "por" depends on the context.

First off:

Tengo un libro por ti


Tengo un libro para ti

Have completely different meanings.

The first one can be translated to "I have a book because of you"; it means that something the other person did caused or helped you to get a book.

The second one can be translated to "I have a book for you"; it means that you're giving away (or maybe trying to sell?) a book to the other person.

Now you say you want to "exchange" the book to them. Using "por" in that context is for when you give something and receive something in return, which doesn't seem to be what you want to say. Depending on the context, por can mean "because of" (as in my first example or as in "Lo hice por ti" - "I did it for you") or "in exchange of" (as in "Te doy este libro por tu libreta" - "I give you this book for your notebook").


As you said it is used for exchanging, if you are exchanging books then it would be fine. But you are just giving it away, to someone. So, in this case it should "para ti".

An example of exchange could be, "I give you this book for that one", "Te cambio este libro por ese"


You have to look at the context. POR denotes a reason or cause for the action; it answers the WHY question (POR QUE). Whereas PARA denotes a target; it answers the question FOR WHO (PARA QUIEN) or FOR WHAT (PARA QUE). For example, both of these sentences are correct:

  1. Lo hice por ti
  2. Lo hice para ti

The first one means that I did it because of you or for your benefit (i.e. answers the WHY). The second one means that I did it or made for you (i.e. you were the target of my action). It gets a little more complicated than that, but that's the best short explanation I can give.

  • por= agency, we say.
    – Lambie
    Jul 8, 2021 at 17:13

Yeah: this is officially weird!

"Tengo un libro por ti" <- Nonsense "Tengo un libro para ti" <- Correct, even when is exchanged for something else.

Now, "Tengo un libro [escrito] por ti" is correct, and you can change the acting verb for almost anything that makes sense: decorado, resaltado, recortado, etc.


I'm not sure you understand the English word "exchange". To exchange something means to gives something in trade for something else. If you go to the store and buy bread, you are exchanging money for bread. "money" is the direct object and "bread" is the indirect object. Neither you nor the clerk are being exchanged. One does not exchange things to someone. You can say "I gave to them" or "I exchanged with them", but not "I exchanged to them".

If you're talking about giving to someone, "para" is used for gifts. "Tengo un regalo para ti", not "Tengo un regalo por ti".

While "por" is used for exchanges, it's used for the things being exchanged, not the people involved in the exchange. If you're using "por" in the exchange sense in "Tengo un libro por ti", it means "I have a book, and my intention is to exchange you and the book". That is, I'm going to give the book to someone, and that someone is going to give you to me in exchange.

To talk about the people involved in an exchange, you should use "con": "Quiero intercambiar contigo esto libro por un película".

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