Spanish can be tricky — even for native speakers.
Sometimes, words that are written and pronounced in a similar way can have very different meanings.
This is the case with por qué vs porque, two fundamental words that mean “why” and “because”, respectively.
por qué — why
porque — because
And it doesn’t end here! Things get even more complicated when we introduce two other very similar expressions: porqué and por que.
Nobody can tell when you’re communicating in spoken Spanish, but when it comes time to write out an email or text message, you should know which to use and when.
Don’t worry — you just need to learn a few quick rules to know which one to use.
Read on and learn the main differences between por qué vs porque vs porqué vs por que and easy ways to differentiate them.
Por qué (Why? + other uses)
Por qué, why in Spanish, is one of the four porques in Spanish. Just as the English why, we use por qué when we want to ask the reason for something.
Editor’s note: I think of por qué as meaning “for what?”. The qué means “what” in other contexts, so this is how I remember this phrase.
As you’ve probably noticed, in this case the word qué is written with an accent on the “e”.
This is because, qué is an interrogative adjective – a word that is used to form a question.
In Spanish there are many interrogative adjectives, like cuándo (“when”), quién (“who”), dónde (“where”), to name a few.
Using Por qué to Ask a Question
When used within a question, por qué is usually written between question marks. The format is the same way you would construct a “why” type of question in English. Let’s look at some examples:
- ¿Por qué no fuiste a la escuela ayer?
- ¿Por qué te gusta tanto el chocolate?
- ¿Por qué tus perros están ladrando?
- Why didn’t you go to school yesterday?
- Why do you like chocolate so much?
- Why are your dogs barking?
Using Por qué to Ask an Indirect Question
Sometimes por qué can be included in indirect questions – that is, affirmative sentences without question marks. It is usually in the middle of the sentence.
- No entiendo por qué hace tanto calor hoy.
- Quiero saber por qué reprobaste el examen.
- Dime por qué me mentiste.
- I don’t understand why it’s so hot today.
- I want to know why you failed the test.
- Tell me why you lied to me.
Using Por qué to Mean “Which”
Because por qué technically means “for what”, it can also mean “which” or “by which” (depending on the context).
The qué in this context equates to cuál, meaning “which”. In these instances, the word por means “through” or even “from”, like in the following examples:
- No sé por qué camino tengo que ir.
- Todavía no han anunciado por qué puerta sale mi avión.
- I don’t know by which road I have to go.
- They still haven’t announced from which gate my plane is leaving.
These are examples of how context is everything!
Now that we have learned how to use por qué (why in Spanish), it is time to learn how to use porque (“because”).
There are two major differences when considering por qué vs porque:
- Porque is a single word
- It does not have an accent mark on top of any of its letters.
If you ask something and include the expression por qué (“why”) in the question, the logical thing would be for you to receive an answer that begins with the word porque (“because”).
See some examples:
Q: ¿Por qué no aprobaste el examen?
A: Porque no estudié.
Q: ¿Por qué huele tan delicioso?
A: Porque estoy cocinando pasta.
Q: Why didn’t you pass the test?
A: Because I didn’t study.
Q: Why does it smell so delicious?
A: Because I’m cooking pasta.
But, also, as it happens in English, porque can be used independently without being prompted with ¿Por qué? (Why?) to explain a reason or circumstance:
- Pedro se puso la chaqueta porque tenía frío.
- No voy a beber cerveza, porque no me gusta.
- No quiero tirarme a la piscina, porque nunca fui a clases de natación.
- Pedro put on his jacket because he was cold.
- I’m not going to drink beer, because I don’t like it.
- I don’t want to jump into the pool, because I never took swimming lessons.
Porqué (as a noun)
Up until what we’ve reviewed now, there seem to be no major differences between Spanish and English with por qué vs porque.
Both expressions are used in practically the same contexts in one language as in the other, right? Luckily this is the same is true for the third category – “porqué”!
Porqué is a single word, and it has an accent mark in the “e”. Basically, porqué is a noun that means “reason” or “motif”.
Like all nouns, it can be accompanied by an article. It is a masculine noun, so it would take the articles: el porqué (the reason) or un porqué (a reason).
The plural form is los porqués. Let’s take a look at some examples, and you’ll see it’s used in the same way you would use the noun “reason” in English:
- No comprendo el porqué de tu enojo.
- Entre los porqués de esta decisión, se encuentra la conversación que mantuvimos ayer.
- En esta vida, todo tiene un porqué.
- I don’t understand the reason for your anger
- Among the reasons for this decision, there is the conversation we had yesterday
- In this life, everything has a reason.
Por que (for which, in order that)
We’ve finally come to the last of the four porques in Spanish: por que, an expression formed by two independent words (por and que), and without an accent mark.
This is the most complicated of the four, and the least used, as it has alternatives. You should understand it, and know you probably need to be using one of the above — but it is a correct usage in the below situations.
Por que means “for which”, and it is definitely the least used of the four porques. Here we tell you in which two situations where you might find the phrase por que.
- Por (for)+ the relative pronoun que
- Por que with phrasal verbs
Let’s take a look at these in more detail.
Por (for)+ the Relative Pronoun Que
In the first scenario is when we consider que as a relative pronoun, which can be directly translated to “for which”.
The phrase that follows por que, offers the reason or explanation for the first part of the sentence. See some of the examples below:
- Esa es la razón por que me fui a casa.
- Ese es el motivo por que me mudo a una nueva escuela.
- That is the reason for which I went home.
- That is my motive for which I am moving to a new school.
The reason this form of por que is less common is that in these contexts, you’re more likely to see/hear por la que/por el que or por la cual/por el cual instead of por que.
Por que with Phrasal Verbs
The second way por que is used is by accompanying phrasal verbs. These are usually verbs that are combined with another preposition.
Some examples of phrasal verbs when used with por que are preocuparse por (worry about), luchar por (fight for), and abogar por (advocate for), to name a few.
Let’s see it in practice:
- Mi padre siempre se preocupó por que fuéramos a un buen colegio.
- Luchamos por que los derechos de las minorías.
- My father always worried that we would go to a good school
- We fight for the rights of minorities.
Por que is without a doubt the most complicated of the four in usage.
However, don’t worry too much about por que. Spanish speakers even make mistakes with this form. It is rather typical of formal registers, and is not usually used in everyday speech.
As we have seen, there are four ways to use the porques in Spanish: por qué, porque, porqué and por que.
This might sound overwhelming, but to take some of the pressure off, since they all sound the same, when you’re speaking to someone you don’t need to stress.
And when you’re writing, bear in mind that making mistakes between these forms is so common that people often attribute it to “oh, that person was probably typing too quickly” or “maybe that was an autocorrect error”.
But if you’re writing very carefully in Spanish, you can always come to this guide to double-check that you’re using the right porque. ¡Buena suerte!