What’s the Difference? por qué, por que, porqué and porque

You’ve seen pairs like él and el, but a quadruplet?

You already know that many Spanish words come in pairs that look alike, apart from an accent mark. If these pairs are one-syllable words, they sound alike, too, but have entirely different meanings: (you) and tu (your), él (he) and el (the), (tea) and te (you), etc. Now we’re going to look at a quadruplet. por qué, por que, porqué and porque.

por qué, por que, porqué and porque

In this post we’re going to focus on two pairs: porqué and porque, as well as por qué and por que. What’s the difference between the two members of both pairs? Not just the accent, but also the meaning and usage.

Why?”

We’re going to start with por qué and porque. Why? Because you’re going to use them the most. The common way to ask for a reason in Spanish is with the expression por qué. Por qué literally means for what, but we can just translate it as why. In writing, don’t forget the accent on that final e, not to mention the opening (¿) and closing (?) question marks at the beginning and the end of your question:

¿Por qué me haces esto?
Why are you doing this to me?

If you’re trying to find a reason in an indirect question (I’m asking why…, I don’t know why… He wanted me to explain why...), you can dispense with the question marks, but the accent stays.

No entiendo por qué me haces esto.
I don’t understand why are you doing this to me.

Because the sky is blue…”

If you’re giving an answer rather than asking a question, the accent goes away, and you write it as one word: porque, meaning because. For example, if your Spanish coworker warns you: «Te van a despedir» (They’re going to fire you), you’re going to ask:

–¿Por qué me van a despedir?
–Why are they going to fire me?
Porque siempre llegas tarde.
Because you’re always late.

Yeah, that’s right. Work on your punctuality as much as your Spanish, please. Porque always introduces a reason, just like English because or since. Whether the reason is simple or metaphysical, it’s the same porque. There’s a Jorge Luis Borges essay in which a Buddhist disciple says to his Teacher: “I’ve been looking for my mind for a long time and I haven’t found it.” And the Teacher answers:

–No la has encontrado porque no existe.
You haven’t found it because it doesn’t exist.

“Give me the reason

There’s another porqué, one single word with an accent, which is a masculine noun meaning reason. It’s not a very common noun, a bit like the literary English “the why and the wherefore.” It can be singular or plural, like most nouns.

El porqué de su tristeza es completamente desconocido.
The reason for his sadness is completely unknown.
Él explicará los porqués de semejante decisión.
He will explain the reasons for such a decision.

In more conversational language, you’d probably just use la razón (the reason).

La razón de su tristeza es completamente desconocida. 
The reason for his sadness is completely unknown.

“Just so that you know…”

Now that we’ve covered the common por qué (why) and porque (because), along with the less common el porqué (the reason), let’s look at the fourth item in our list: por que (so that). This last one is kind of odd, and you might not ever use it. But it’s out there and should know about it, especially if you’re getting into more advanced Spanish grammar.

You probably know that que on its own is a conjunction meaning that, and it introduces something called a subordinate clause, if you like grammatical terminology.

Dicen que la gramática no es fácil.
They say that grammar isn’t easy.

Por que is also a conjunction, but it’s not as simple as que. Por que means something along the lines of for that or so that.

Ellos votaron por que se aumente el sueldo.
They voted so that the salary would be increased.

‘They voted’ (‘Ellos votaron’) is the main clause. ‘The salary would be increased’ (‘Se aumente el sueldo’) is the subordinate clause, and por que glues the two together, letting you know that the thing for which they voted was a salary increase.

You get extra points if you notice that aumente is in the subjunctive. But that’s a whole different story that we’ll have to leave for another time. ¿Por qué? Porque this post is long enough already!

Image: Unsplash 

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