In just a few minutes you could learn how to use the verb Tener in Spanish. This article talks about how Tener is used and common expressions, such as Tengo hambre (I am hungry), Tengo sed (I am thirsty), etc.
What is the usual meaning of the verb Tener?
The usual meaning of the verb Tener is “to have” and is typically used to show ownership, just like in English, for example:
- Tengo una casa = I have (i.e. I own) a house
- Tenemos un jardín = We have (i.e. we own) a garden
Showing ownership is the most common use of Tener in the Spanish language.
Unexpected uses of Tener
Tener however can be confusing to native English speakers in other situations. In Spanish people sometimes say that they have something, whereas in English you would say that you are something.
Take the following examples:
- Tengo hambre in English means I am hungry
- Tengo sed in English means I am thirsty
- Tengo calor in English means I am hot (i.e. I am feeling hot).
- Tengo frío in English means I am cold (i.e. I am feeling cold)
Regardless of the English meanings of the above sentences, in all the examples you are saying that you have something, so:
- Tengo hambre literally means I have hunger
- Tengo sed literally means I have thirst
- Tengo calor literally means I have heat
- Tengo frío literally means I have coldness
Why the differences?
The differences in structure are necessary for a limited number of situations where:
- In English you use an adjective (i.e. a descriptive word), so use "To be" (e.g. I am hungry)
- BUT in Spanish you use a noun (i.e. a quality), so use "To have" (e.g. I have hunger)
Other common expressions where you use Tener in Spanish
Other common expressions that use tener in Spanish are as follows:
- Tengo….años in English means I am….years old, but in Spanish has the literal meaning of I have….years
- Tengo celos (de) in English means I am jealous (of), but in Spanish has the literal meaning of I have jealousy (of)
- Tengo dolor de la cabeza in English means I have a headache, but in Spanish has the literal meaning of I have pain of the head
- Tengo éxito in English means I am successful, but in Spanish has the literal meaning of I have success
- Tengo ganas de (salir) means I feel like (going out), but in Spanish has the literal meaning of I have desires of (going out)
- La fiesta tiene lugar…. means The party takes place…., but in Spanish has the literal meaning of The party has location/place....
- Tengo miedo means I am frightened, but in Spanish has the literal meaning of I have fear
- Tengo que [trabajar] means I have to [work], but in Spanish has the literal meaning of I have that [to work]
- Tengo razón means I am correct, but in Spanish has the literal meaning of I have reasoning/logic
- Tengo suerte means I am lucky, but in Spanish has the literal meaning of I have luck
Whereas the list above is only some of the more common ones, it is a good starting point when learning how to speak Spanish.
Essentially for the above expressions people use a noun in Spanish (e.g. success) whereas in English you would use an adjective (e.g. successful).
The verb tener in the Present Tense
Just in case you are not very familiar with the verb tener, the verb in the present tense is as follows:
- Tengo = I have
- Tienes = You have (speaking to one friend)
- Tiene = He/She/It has
- Tiene = You have (speaking to one stranger)
- Tenemos = We have
- Tenéis = You have (Speaking to two or more friends)
- Tienen = They have
- Tienen = You have (speaking to two or more strangers)
You simply would change “Tengo” from the above example to “Tienes, Tiene, etc.” as appropriate, for example:
- Tienes sed in English means You are thirsty, but in Spanish has the literal meaning of You have thirst
- Tenemos hambre in English means We are hungry, but in Spanish has the literal meaning of We have hunger
Points to keep in mind
Most of the time in the Spanish language they use adjectives when you use adjectives in English. This means that most of the time, you should use ser or estar (to be) where you would use to be in English. This is essentially the case when you use an adjective to describe someone, for example:
- Soy alto/a means I am tall
- Estoy cansado/a means I am tired
You should not therefore use tener unless you are saying you have a noun (e.g. hambre - hunger, sed - thirst, etc.). Essentially the list discussed above (i.e. hambre, sed, calor, frío, etc.) should be treated as exceptions, rather than the rule.
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