The little word por causes no end of headaches for Spanish students, as it can translate as “for”, “because of”, “on behalf of”, “through” or “in exchange for”. It doesn’t help that this word must be contrasted with para, another word which sometimes means “for” but whose meaning rarely, if ever, overlaps with por. There are tons of tutorials on the internet which explain these meanings, including a very thorough one at studyspanish.com. Today, I simply want to focus on a usage of por that often goes unnoticed in grammar books and yet can be heard everywhere; namely, the addition of an adjective to the preposition. Let me illustrate:
- “¿Por qué te casaste con ella?” … “Pues, por tonto” “Why did you marry her?”… “Well, for being dumb”
- “¡Eso te pasa por estúpido!” “This is what you get for being stupid!”
- “Todo el mundo lo tomó por loco” “Everyone considered him crazy.”
- “Se aprovechan de ella por buena” “They take advantage of her because she’s a good person.”
- “¿Por qué me hiriste así? … “Bueno, lo hice por pendejo” “Why did you hurt me like that?” … “Well, I did because I’m a jerk.”
Remember that one of the primary uses of por is to express a reason or a cause for something. In English, we wouldn’t say things like “I did it for stupid”. We would place the word “being” after the word “for” to make sense of the sentence: “I did it for being stupid” (although most of us would actually say: “I did it because I was stupid”). The implication is that stupidity caused the aforementioned action; in Spanish it goes like this: “Lo hice por estúpido”. In the examples above, you could conceivably place the word ser or estar after por and come up with the same result: “Me casé por ser tonto” or “Todo el mundo lo tomó por estar loco”. The difference between English and Spanish, however, is that por can accept an adjective without needing ser or estar to buffer it.
While this usage is extremely common in daily speech, it’s also permissible in formal writing. The famous book Don Quixote de la Mancha contains numerous examples of this usage, including the oft-quoted line: Todos le tuvieron por loco…