Tener (to have) in Spanish

In Spanish we sometimes use the verb tener meaning to have when in English we would use to be. This can be a little confusing for English speakers.

In this post we look at some of the most common situations where we use tener where on first sight it may seem weird to do so in English.

Some key expressions which use ‘tener’

There are a limited number of situations where in English we would say I am, You are, He is, etc. when in Spanish we would say I have, You have, He has, etc. Let’s take the situation where you say that I am hungry in Spanish. In Spanish you would say:

  • Tengo hambre = I am hungry
  • BUT this literally means I have hunger.

Other common expressions using have in Spanish where we would do not do so in English are:

  • Tengo sed = I am thirsty
  • BUT this literally meaning I have thirst.
  • Tengo calor = I am hot (i.e. I feel hot)
  • BUT this literally means I have heat.
  • Tengo frío = I am cold (i.e. I feel cold)
  • BUT this literally means I have coldness.

There are lots of other situations where we would say have in Spanish when you would not do so in English.

Why is ‘have’ used in Spanish for the above expressions?

The reason why ‘have’ is used in the above expressions is because you are saying that you are not describing yourself. You are saying that you have something, for example:

  • You are saying that you have hunger. You are NOT saying that you are hungry.
  • You are saying that you have thirst. You are NOT saying that you are thirsty.
  • You are saying that you have heat. You are NOT saying that you are hot.
  • You are saying that you have coldness. You are NOT saying that you are cold.

You have to think in a Spanish way with these expressions, rather than in an English way.

Do the words ‘hambre’, ‘sed’, ‘calor’ & ‘frío’ change in this context (like adjectives)?

The simple answer to the question above is they do not change in this context. The thing owned does not change gender even if a female person has the thing. What I mean by this is:

  • Tengo frío = Literally ‘I have coldness’ means ‘I am cold’ regardless of whether a woman or a man is talking

Remember the words hambresed, calor and frío in this context (i.e. when used with the verb ‘tener’) are all nouns and therefore do not change. Essentially, because they are nouns and not adjectives they do not change just because a female has the thing.

For info: The verb ‘Tener’ in the Present Tense

Just in case you are not too familar with the verb ‘tener’ (i.e. ‘To have’) in the present tense, it is as follows:

  • (Yo) Tengo = I have
  • ()Tienes = You have (speaking to one friend)
  • (Él/Ella) Tiene = He/She/It has
  • (Usted) Tiene = You have (speaking to one stranger)
  • (Nosotros/Nosotras) Tenemos = We have
  • (Vosotros/Vosotras) Tenéis = You have (speaking to two or more friends)
  • (Ellos/Ellas) Tienen = They have
  • (Ustedes) Tienen = You have (speaking to two or more strangers)
More Information

I hope that the post above has helped you to understand some key expressions that use ‘have’ (i.e. Tener) in Spanish.

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