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Following "Tener" With "A"

Common Preposition Can Change Verb's Meaning


Although the verb tener typically means "to have" in the sense of "possess," its meaning can change, sometimes subtly, when it precedes the preposition a.

With the personal "a"

The personal a typically doesn't need to follow tener. But when it does, it can suggest emotional closeness.
  • Siempre voy a tener a mis primas en mi corazón. I will always have my cousins in my heart.
  • Tengo a mis hijos que adoro. I have my children whom I adore.
The personal a similarly is retained when one person is holding another: Selena tiene a su bebe en sus brazos. Selena has her baby in her arms.

The personal a also can be retained to make clear that the object of tener is a specific person, even though no specific person is named in the sentence:

  • Tim Burton ya tiene a su "Alicia" para su versión de "Alicia en el País de las maravillas." Tim Burton already has his "Alice" for his version of "Alice in Wonderland."
  • El candidato presidencial ya tiene a su vicepresidente, pero decidió mantener el suspense y no va a revelar ni una letra sobre su "número dos". The presidential candidate already has his vice president, but he decided to keep up the suspense and isn't going to reveal even a clue about his "number two."
  • La entrenadora tiene a dos jugadores más en mente para el equipo. The coach has two more players in mind for the team.

To indicate influence

Just as "have" sometimes does in English, tener a can be used to indicate in a vague way that one is causing someone or something to behave a certain way or have a certain quality. Some examples may make this concept clearer.

A common way to do this in Spanish is to use the sentence construction of "tener + a + noun + present verbal participle." (A present verbal participle in Spanish is often known as a gerund and is the verb form that ends in -ando or -iendo.) As these examples show, a similar sentence construction can often be used in the English translation:

  • Tengo a alguien escribiendo mis cartas. I have someone writing my letters.
  • Tengo a mi familia trabajando conmigo. I have my family working with me.
  • Adobe tiene a Flash funcionando en el iPhone. Adobe has Flash working in the iPhone.
  • Tenía a todos llorando por su salida. He had everyone crying at his departure.
  • Hay muchos que no tienen a tanta gente pensando en ellos. There are many who don't have enough people thinking about them.
Other sentence constructions can also be used with tener a with a similar meaning:
  • Siempre tenemos a Britney como ejemplo. We always have Britney as an example.
  • El programa de televisión tiene a Keane como protagonista. The television program has Keane as the main character.
  • Kristina tiene al marido feliz. Kristina keeps her husband happy.
  • El FBI tiene a la casa como centro de operaciones. The FBI uses the house as a center of operations.
  • Nadie sabe por qué Katrina tiene al coche así. Nobody knows why Katrina keeps her car that way.

Giving birth

In context, the use of tener a can refer to giving birth, just as "to have" can in English.
  • Ángela tiene a gemelos. Angela is having twins.
  • Tengo 32 años y acabo de tener a mi segundo hijo. I am 32 years old and just had my second child.

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