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Using 'Tener'

Spanish for Beginners


camel and tank

El camello no tiene sed. (The camel isn't thirsty.)

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Marcus Fichti; Creative Commons license.

Tener, usually translated as "to have," is a particularly useful verb. Not only is it used to indicate possession, it is also used in a variety of idiomatic expressions to indicate emotions or states of being. Note that when tener means "to have," it does so in the sense of meaning "to possess" or "to own." The equivalent of the English auxiliary verb "to have," as in "you have seen," is haber (as in has visto, you have seen).

Like many other commonly used verbs, tener is irregular. Following are the conjugations for the most common indicative tenses. Irregular conjugations are indicated by boldface. Note that these verb forms can be translated in other ways if the context calls for it.

  • Present tense: yo tengo (I have), tú tienes (you have), él/ella/usted tiene (he/she has, you have), nosotros tenemos (we have), vosotros tenéis (you have), ellos/ustedes tienen (they/you have).
  • Preterite tense: yo tuve (I had), tú tuviste (you had), él/ella/usted tuvo (he/she/you had), nosotros tuvimos (we had), vosotros tuvisteis (you have), ellos/ustedes tuvieron (they/you have).
  • Imperfect tense: yo tenía (I used to have), tú tenías (you used to have), él/ella/usted tenía (he/she/you used to have), nosotros teníamos (we used to have), vosotros teníais (you used to have), ellos/ustedes tenían (they/you used to have).
  • Future tense: yo tendré (I will have), tú tendrás (you will have), él/ella/usted tendrá (he/she/you will have), nosotros tendremos (we will have), vosotros tendréis (you will have), ellos/ustedes tendrán (they/you will have).

Most of the time, tener is used much the same way as "to have" is in English:

  • Tengo tres hijos. I have three children.
  • Tiene un coche casi nuevo con una garantía fuerte. He has an almost new car with a strong guarantee.
  • Tuvimos cuatro campeones en el mismo momento. We had four champions at the same time.
  • En 2006 Paulina no tenía carné de conducir. In 2006 Paulina didn't have a driver's license.
  • No tenemos suficientes bosques en el planeta. We don't have enough forests on our planet.
  • ¿Crees que tendremos una mujer presidente? Do you believe we will have a female president?

However, expressions using tener are also quite common. Many of them would not be understood by English speakers to indicate possession. For example, tener hambre, would be translated literally as "to have hunger," although it would normally understood as "to be hungry." The following listing, which is far from complete, shows some of the common expressions or idioms using tener:

  • tener ____ años (to be ____ years old): Tiene 4 años. She is 4 years old.
  • tener calor (to be or to feel hot): ¿Tienes calor? Are you hot?
  • tener cuidado (to be careful): ¡Ten cuidado! Be careful!
  • tener la culpa (to be at fault): Mi madre dice que tengo la culpa. My mother says it's my fault.
  • tener éxito (to be successful): Mi hermano tiene mucho éxito. My brother is very successful.
  • tener frío (to be or feel cold): Los exploradores tendrán frío. The explorers will be cold.
  • tener hambre (to be hungry): Los niños siempre tienen hambre. The children are always hungry.
  • tener miedo (to be afraid): El paracaidista no tenía miedo. The parachute jumper wasn't afraid.
  • tener prisa (to be in a hurry): Mi hija nunca tiene prisa. My daughter is never in a hurry.
  • tener que + infinitive (to have to): Tengo que salir. I have to leave.
  • tener razón, no tener razón (to be right, to be wrong): Tengo razón. No tienes razón. I'm right. You're wrong.
  • tener sed (to be thirsty): El camello no tiene sed. The camel isn't thirsty.
  • tener suerte (to be lucky): Los ganadores tenían suerte. The winners were lucky.

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