Understanding the verb Tener (to have)

Tener is a Spanish verb meaning ‘to have’.

In the present tense it is conjugated as:

Yo Tengo – I have

Tú Tienes – You have

Usted/Él/Ella/ Tiene – You (formal)/He/She has

Nosotros Tenemos – We have

Vosotros Tenéis  - You (plural) have

Ustedes/Ellos/Ellas/ Tienen  - You (formal plural)/ They have

When to use ‘tener’:


1. Use 'tener' to express possession

    • Tengo un libro de español – I have a Spanish book.


    • Juan tiene varias guitarras en su coleccíon. – Juan has various guitars in his collection

2. Use 'tener' to express age

‘Tener’ is also used to express age. In English you would use the verb ‘to be’ to express this. So for example ‘I am 30’ or ‘he is 21’ or ‘we are 45.’ However in Spanish you would use the verb ‘tener’ so a literal translation would be ‘to have a certain number of years.’  

    • Tengo quince años - I am 15 years old (literal translation - I have 15 years)


    • ¿Cuántos años tienes? –  How old are you? (literal translation - How many years do you have?)

3. Use 'tener' to indicate obligations

It would also be used to indicate obligation – ‘to have to…’

With this always add the word ‘que’ between the conjugated form of tener and the infinitive.

Conjugated form of tener + que + infinitive:

    • Tengo que ir – I have to go


    • Tenemos que dormir temprano hoy – We have to sleep early today

4. Use 'tener' for expressions and conditions

In Spanish to express that you ‘feel like’ doing something use: Tener + ganas + de + infinitive

    • Tengo ganas de dormir – I feel like sleeping.


Below are a few conditions where 'tener' would be used instead of the verb 'to be':

Tener hambre – To be hungry (literal translation – to have hunger)

Tener sed – To be thirsty (literal translation – to have thirst)

Tener frío – To be cold (literal translation – to have cold)

Tener prisa – To be in a hurry (literal translation – to have haste)

Tener miedo – To be scared (literal translation – to have fear)

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