The verb tener (to have) is a versatile one in Spanish. For example, did you know that in Spanish we say “I am hungry” using the verb tener: tengo hambre. This number of uses makes it very helpful to learn when speaking or writing in everyday Spanish; we use tener to talk about ownership, obligation, age, and many other expressions. Do you want to know what these uses are? You can have all this information if you keep reading! Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
To express possession
When we possess something we express it with the verb tener. For example,
Estoy muy feliz desde que tengo una casa en la playa.
I am very happy since I own a house on the beach.
This use also includes the description of the different elements or components objects have.
Mi casa de la playa tiene cuatro habitaciones y una piscina.
My beach house has four rooms and a swimming pool.
El cuerpo humano tiene 206 huesos.
The human body has 206 bones.
No indefinite article (un, una, unos, unas) is necessary for things we are likely to only have one of (e.g., a pen, a partner, a car), plural nouns, and uncountable nouns.
To describe relationships
With expressions of time
Tengo 24 horas para entregar el documento.
I have 24 hours to hand the document in.
En el trabajo tenemos una hora para comer.
At work we have one hour for lunch.
Tengo dos horas intentando abrir la puerta.
I have spent two hours trying to open the door.
Tenemos diez años viviendo en esta casa.
We have lived in this house for ten years.
For physical descriptions
Laura tiene el cabello largo, rizado y castaño y tiene los ojos verdes.
Laura has long, wavy, brown hair and green eyes.
⤷TIP Notice that definite articles (el/la/los/las) are used when describing body parts.
To express age
Unlike English, age is expressed in Spanish with the verb tener.
La catedral de Guadalajara es una de las más antiguas de Latinoamérica. Tiene 403 años.
Guadalajara’s cathedral is one of the oldest in Latin America. It’s 403 years old.
Expressions with ‘tener’ + noun
Tener hambre/sed (to be hungry/ thirsty), tener sueño (to be sleepy), tener frío/calor (to feel hot/cold).
¡Este es un mal día para Gabriel! Tiene sueño, hambre, y frío. Tiene dolor de cabeza y por eso tiene mala cara.
This is a bad day for Gabriel! He is sleepy, hungry, and cold. He has a headache and that’s why he’s in a bad mood.
Tener is also used to express other physical states like being in a good/bad mood.
Marco siempre está enojado, pero hoy tiene buena cara.
Marco is always angry, but today he’s in a good mood. Literal: he has a good face.
Similar to English, tener is used to express ailments or symptoms like tener fiebre (to have a fever) or tener dolor de + body part (to have body aches).
Me siento muy mal. Tengo gripa y tengo dolor de oído.
I don’t feel well. I have the flu and I have an earache.
‘Tener que’ + infinitive
I have to study before taking the exam.
You should go see the doctor soon.
It must be the delivery man.
‘Tener ganas de’ to express desire
Tener is also used in the expression tener ganas de + infinitive to say that the speaker feels like doing something.
Tengo ganas de nadar.
I feel like swimming.
¿Tienes ganas de seguir aprendiendo español?
Do you feel like learning more Spanish?
Common expressions with ‘tener’
Today, you have the opportunity to be happy.
As you can see, tener is a very versatile verb. In many cases it’s similar to the English “to have,” but it’s used in many common Spanish expressions. Let’s recap the main uses:
- To express possession, including expressions of time.
- To describe relationships.
- To express age.
- To express physical needs, moods, and ailments.
- To express obligation.
- To express desire with tener ganas de…
- With collocations where it combines with different nouns.
An uncountable noun is a substance or concept that cannot be “counted” (e.g., water, music,…).
Personal a is used to mark direct object nouns that are specific and human (sometimes pets too). Veo a María. (I see María.)
An infinitive is a verb in its basic form, for example to run, to eat, to be. In Spanish, infinitives have one of three endings: -ar, -er, -ir (cantar, comer, vivir).
Collocation is the combination of words that frequently come together. These words form a phrase that many times acquires a specific meaning.
- Examples of collocations in Spanish are: llevar a cabo (to carry out); tomar cartas en el asunto (to take action (on a matter)).