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Tener: Definition & Conjugation

Instructor: Kelsey Page

Kelsey teaches and tutors Spanish and has a Master's degree in Spanish.

In this lesson, you will learn about the verb tener and how to conjugate it in the present, preterite and imperfect tenses. You will also practice using tener to use common expressions in Spanish.

Tener

The verb tener in Spanish means 'to have'. Tener is also used to form many common expressions that we use with 'to be' in English.

Conjugating Tener in the Present Tense

Tener is an irregular verb, which means that its conjugations don't follow a common pattern. Since we use this verb a lot in Spanish, it's a good idea to practice the present tense conjugations so you can use them quickly.

yo tengo I have nosotros/as tenemos we have
tienes you (informal) have vosotros/as tenéis you all (informal; Spain only) have
usted/él/ella tiene you (formal)/he/she has ustedes/ellos/ellas tienen you all/they have

You can create sentences by starting with the subject and then using the matching verb form. Since each verb form has different spellings, we can also omit the subject when it's pretty clear who is doing the action or who has the item.

Let's say I have a car. I can say Yo tengo un carro. Since the tengo form of tener can only be used for yo (I), you can leave that word out and say simply Tengo un carro.

car

Expressions with Tener

Now that you know how to conjugate tener, let's use it to form common expressions in Spanish. In English we use different verbs to say some of these ideas, so you should study the ideas behind these expressions instead of trying to translate their meanings word for word.

tener __ años to be __ years old
tener hambre to be hungry
tener sed to be thirsty
tener cuidado to be careful
tener razón to be correct; to be right
tener sueño to be sleepy
tener que to have to
tener ganas (de) to feel like
tener frío to be cold
tener calor to be hot
tener prisa to be in a hurry

For each of these expressions, we'll use the same forms of tener that we practiced above.

Let's say that Marta is hungry and her brother Jorge is sleepy. We can say: Marta tiene hambre y Jorge tiene sueño. I am thirsty, so I'll say yo tengo sed, or simply tengo sed.

If we say that two plus two is four, we are right, or tenemos razón.
two plus two equals four
If Javier and Luisa say that two plus two is five, they are not right; ellos no tienen razón.
two plus two incorrect

Tener in the Preterite Tense

Tener is irregular in the past preterite tense also. You may have learned about the preterite tense in Spanish before. We use this form of the verb to talk about a series of events in the past and to talk about things with a clear beginning and end.

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