Learn Spanish: Tener Expressions
Learning Spanish With Tener Expressions
In English, we use the verb "to be" to express how we feel, whether we're too warm or cold, hungry or thirsty and more.
In Spanish, however, some expressions use the verb "to be" to express how we feel, but other expressions are used with the verb "to have," or tener.
It may seem strange to express yourself saying "I have cold" or "I have pain," but you can think of it like this: you have a feeling. Thus, you have a sensation of being thirsty or hungry, or a feeling of having luck.
These phrases are idiomatic expressions because if you take them word for word, they don't necessarily make sense, but actually convey a clear meaning to the speakers of that language.
For example, in English when we say, "she's yanking her chain," that doesn't literally mean someone is pulling on someone's chain - it's an expression that means someone is teasing a girl or woman. We understand this in English, but someone learning the language might not understand that. Thus, it's an idiomatic expression.
This article will address how to express yourself in Spanish using various phrases that go with the verb tener.
Tener = To Have
The verb tener is one of the most important verbs in Spanish. It means to have but can take on different meanings depending on words that are paired with it.
This verb is irregular in Spanish. It doesn't follow the usual pattern of most verbs and it's best just to memorize all its different forms to help with your communication in Spanish:
The first person singular form = tengo and means I have.
Tengo tres lápices. I have three pencils.
Tengo dos gatos. I have two cats.
Forms of Tener
you (informal) have
(él, ella, usted) tiene
he, she, you (formal) have
(ellos, ellas, ustedes) tienen
they, you (all) have
Other forms of tener
In many Latin American countries, the ustedes form is most commonly used to speak to a group of people.
In Spain, the vosotros form of tener is often used when speaking to a group of people, but in less formal situations. A professor might use the vosotros form to speak to students, but in a business meeting, the same person might address the audience using the ustedes form.
(Vosotros) tenéis - you all have
Although the questions can be repetitive, I use this book with my students to help them practice verbs.
Spanish Expressions with Tener
Let's look at some expressions with tener. Since you'll often be expressing how you feel personally, we'll go with the first person, singular form:
Tengo ___ años - I am ____ years old.
Tengo calor - I'm too warm.
Tengo frío - I'm cold.
Tengo hambre - I'm hungry.
Tengo sed - I'm thirsty.
Tengo confianza - I'm confident.
Tengo suerte - I'm lucky.
Tengo razón - I'm correct.
Tengo dolor de cabeza - I have a headache.
Tengo prisa - I'm in a hurry.
Tengo miedo (de) - I'm afraid (of)
Tengo vergüenza - I'm ashamed.
Tengo sueño - I'm sleepy.
Tengo cuidado - I'm careful.
If you want to know how to pronounce these, take a look at the video I created below. It will help you understand how to pronounce these different expressions.
Sometimes it's helpful to have flashcards (without English translations) to help you learn more effectively.
If you are a teacher or a student, feel free to print these off to use for study or use them on a smartboard or computer to quiz yourself - no English is translated with the images below.
These are my own drawings; they are free to use non-commercially.
Practice with Tener
Try a little exercise using tener expressions. Refer back to the expressions above if you can't remember.
- If the instructions ask, ¿Cómo se dice ______? it means, "How do you say _____?"
- If the question asks, ¿Qué significa ____? it means, "What does _____ mean?"
- ¿Cómo se dice "I'm hungry"?
- ¿Qué significa "tengo cuidado"?
- ¿Cómo se dice "I'm confident"?
- ¿Qué significa "tengo prisa"?
- ¿Cómo se dice "I'm ashamed"?
Similar Verbs to Tener
Though the verb tener is irregular, other verbs in Spanish follow the same pattern:
retener - to retain
venir - to come (even though this is a verb with an -ir ending, it's similar to tener except in the nosotros form - venimos)
contener - to contain
entretener - to entertain
obtener - to get or obtain
sostener - to defend or hold up
Questions With Tener
If you're traveling or in a conversation with someone, you'll often get questions to which you'll want to respond using a tener expression.
Here are some common examples:
¿Tienes frío? - Are you (informal) cold?
¿Tienen miedo? - Are they scared?
¿Tiene hambre? - Are you (formal) hungry?
¿Tienes sed? - Are you (informal) thirsty?
¿Tienes sueño? - Are you (informal) sleepy?
Exercise B: More Practice with Tener
By now, you've seen the yo form of tener a lot: the video, the photos, and the examples above. Now, let's try an exercise that will get you using other forms of the verb to help you remember all the different forms.
Instructions: Change the verb to match the subject (or the subject pronoun) of the sentence. Check your answers below.
- Tú / tener / hambre.
- Ella / tener / sueño.
- Ellos / tener / confianza.
- Yo / tener / hambre.
- Marta / tener / sed.
- Nosotros / tener / razón.
- Él / tener / prisa.
- Tú y yo / tener / frió.
- Tito / tener / dolor de cabeza.
- Tú / tener / suerte.
A Few More Tips
If you want to negate any of these expressions or feelings, just add a "no" in front of the tener verb, but after the subject or subject pronoun:
- No tengo hambre. I'm not hungry.
- Él no tiene razón. He's not correct.
- No tenemos frío. We're not cold.
If you're feeling REALLY strongly about something, add mucho or mucha (meaning "very") in front of the tener verb:
Use "mucho" in front of: sueño, cuidado, éxito, calor, and frío.
Tengo mucho frío. I'm very cold.
Use "mucha" in front of: sed, hambre, suerte, and prisa.
Tiene mucha prisa. He's in a big hurry.
More Tener Expressions
Tener que - to have to (do something)
Example: Tengo que hacer mi tarea. I have to do my homework.
Tener lugar - to take place
Example: La actividad tiene lugar a las seis. The event takes place at 6.
Tener dolor de estómago - to have a stomachache
Example: Tatiana tiene dolor de estómago. Tatiana's stomach hurts.
Tener éxito - to be successful
Example: Tengo éxito con mi trabajo. I'm successful with my job.
Tener ganas de + verb - to feel like + verb
Example: Tengo ganas de dormir. I feel like sleeping.
Exercise C: More Practice with All Expressions
Practice makes perfect, right?
See if you can answer the following questions and check your answers below.
- ¿Cuántos años tienes? (How old are you?)
- ¿Cómo se dice "I have to take a quiz"? (take = tomar, quiz = una prueba)
- ¿Tú tienes dolor de cabeza ahora (now)? Sí o no?
- Tomas agua (you drink water). Tú tienes _____.
- 1 + 1 = 2. Tengo ______.
- ¿Tienes que estudiar (to study) esta noche (tonight)?
- Nieva (it's snowing). Ella _____ frío.
Describe la foto (Describe the photo) Using a Tener ExpressionClick thumbnail to view full-size
After Trying the Exercises and Activities, Test Yourself!
view quiz statistics
Answers to Exercise C
- Tengo ___ años.
- Tengo que tomar una prueba.
- sí / no (depending on if you really have a headache or not)
- sí / no (depending on if you have to study)
Answers to Exercise B
- Tú tienes hambre.*
- Ella tiene sueño.
- Ellos tienen confianza.
- Yo tengo hambre.
- Marta tiene sed.**
- Nosotros tenemos razón.
- Él tiene prisa.
- Tú y yo tenemos frío.***
- Tito tiene dolor de cabeza.
- Tú tienes suerte.
* Subject pronouns are generally optional unless they're used to clarify or emphasize; they are included here so that you know who the subject of the sentence is.
**People's names are considered third person, and put into the same category as él, ella, usted when determining the correct form of the verb.
***Tú y yo takes the nosotros form: it's like saying "You and I," which takes the same form as "we."
© 2014 Cynthia Calhoun