Tener Que + Infinitive in Spanish

Instructor: Janet Long

Janet has taught college Spanish and English courses and has master's degrees in Spanish literature and TESOL.

What do you have to do today? Go to school, work or shopping? Every day, we all have many things that we need to do. This lesson will help you learn how to say what you have to do using the expression tener que.

Tener Que

In Spanish, the verb, tener que, is the way to say that we need to or have to do something. When we use tener que, we need to change the verb, tener, so it agrees with the person or people that have to do something. So before we use it in a sentence, we need to ask ourselves: 'Who needs to do something?' Do you need to do something? Do they need to do something? Do I need to do something?

Tener Que + Infinitive

The word that follows que in a Spanish expression is always an infinitive. An infinitive is the form of the verb that you would find in a dictionary, and in Spanish they always end with -ar, -er or -ir, such as estudiar (study), go (ir) or work (trabajar). You do not need to change the infinitive in any way. Just choose the word for the action that you want to describe, and put it after the correct form of tener que. Let's look at some examples:

English Spanish
I have to study. Tengo que estudiar.
I have to go. Tengo que ir.
You have to study. Tienes que estudiar (for someone you know).
Tiene que estudiar (for someone you don't know well).
He has to work. Tiene que trabajar.
They have to work. Tienen que trabajar.
We have to study. Tenemos que estudiar.

Forms of Tener Que

The forms of tener que include I need/you need, he needs/she needs and plural forms, like they or we. Let's look at these different forms of tener que in more detail so you'll know how to use them with an infinitive.

I Need / You Need

When using the first person with tener que, we use tengo que, which means 'I need to'. To say, 'I need to study', you would use, tengo que estudiar.

If you are talking to one person and want to tell him or her, 'you need to', you would say tiene que or tienes ques because there are two different forms of 'you' in Spanish. We use the first form, tienes que, for people we are familiar with, like friends or family. The second form, tiene que, is a formal expression, and we use it with people that we don't know or should show more respect to, such as older people or our teachers and bosses.

Maybe you noticed that we don't have a word for 'I' or 'you' before tener que. In Spanish, we don't need to say these pronouns because each different subject has a different form of the verb. If we look and listen to the form of the verb, it's easy to know what the subject is.

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