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When to Use Tener in Spanish

Instructor: Ashley Zehel

Ashley has a M.A. in Spanish as well as a B.S. in Foreign Language Education. She has taught K-12 and now teaches college level.

Tener - to have - is one of the most common verbs used in Spanish. It also means a lot more than you think! In this lesson, we will look at the multiple uses of this verb.

The Verb Tener

Tener (pronounced teh-nehr, with a soft 'r' at the end) means 'to have'. In its most basic form, it is used to express possession and necessity. At other times, it is used commonly in phrasing in which you'd normally use the verb 'to be~.' We will look at both the basic form of tener as well as common Spanish expressions that use this verb.

Tener - To Have

Tener is a go-verb, a verb that has a -go ending in the yo-form, and a stem-changing verb, so we will review the present tense conjugations before we begin:

yo tengo (tayn-go) nosotros tenemos (teh-nay-mos)
tú tienes (tee-en-ays) vosotros tenéis (teh-nays)
él/ella/usted tiene (tee-en-ay) ellos/ellas/ustedes tienen (tee-en-en)

When you have something or have to do something, you will use the verb tener.

Tengo clase hoy. I have class today.

Tú tienes dos hijos. You have two children.

Nosotros solamente tenemos veinte pesos. We only have twenty pesos.

To say you have to do something, place the word que after tener.

Ellos tienen que estudiar para el examen. They have to study for the test.

Marta tiene que asistir el concierto. Marta has to attend the concert.

Yo tengo que investigar la situación. I have to investigate the situation.

Yo tengo que investigar
investigar

Expressions with tener

As mentioned, tener is used in Spanish at times when 'to be' would be used in English. Normally, tener is used to express age, basic needs, and some states of being. Here is a list of expressions that are commonly used with tener.

  • tener...años - to be...years old

Mi padre tiene cincuenta años. My dad is fifty years old.

  • tener calor - to be hot
  • tener cuidado - to be careful
  • tener frío - to be cold
  • tener ganas de - to feel like

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