The verb “tener” is the equivalent to “to have” in English. Nevertheless, the verb “tener” has more uses and protagonism in the Spanish language. The verb “tener” is not only used to express possession but human needs as well. In Spanish, it is more common that a native speaker says, “I have hunger” than “I’m hungry”. Yes, in Spanish we say, “I have hunger” —> “Yo tengo hambre”, but do not worry about it yet, let’s do it step by step.
First, you must get familiar with the conjugation of the verb which is below,
Note: the verb “tener” is irregular, that is why it does not look easy to memorize. However, most of the Spanish verbs are regular and much easier to memorize. Do not be put off! In the next lessons, you will see how easy conjugation is.
Now, it is time to learn the uses of this very helpful verb.
Such as English, the verb “tener” is used for indicating possession. In other words, you own or someone else owns something.
A: ¿Tienes carro?
B: Sí, yo tengo un Tesla.
A: Los carros de Tesla son muy caros.
A: ¿Tienes un libro de matemáticas?
B: Sí, el libro está sobre la mesa.
A: Muchas gracias.
A: Yo solo tengo 20 dólares ¿y tú?
B: Yo tengo 100 dólares. ¿es suficiente?
A: Sí, claro. Tú tienes mucho dinero.
At this point would be important to make a parenthesis to talk about “mucho”, “poco” and “suficiente”.
In Spanish, “mucho”, “poco” and “suficiente” work as adjectives and adverbs as well.
As you already know, the adjectives agree in gender and number. That is why we have “mucho”, “mucha”, “muchos” and “muchas”. Moreover, as adjectives that express quantity, they always are placed in front nouns and when they work as adverbs, they are placed after verbs.
At this moment, we will only focus on their use as adjectives. Later, we will learn how to use them as adverbs.
Let’s see some useful example in the table below,
Note: “ropa” -> “cloth” is an uncountable noun in Spanish.
Note: “suficiente-s” is agree only in number because it ends in “-ente” and as you know those adjectives that do not end in “o” or “a” have the same form for describing both genders.
Note: some nouns can be either countable or uncountable.
Note: “café” in its uncountable form could refer to ground coffee or liquid. In its countable form refers to a cups of coffee or coffee shops. By the way, I would recommend using “cafetería” instead of “café” when you refer to a coffee shop so that you can avoid misunderstandings.
Moreover, we have “un poco de” (a little) and “unos pocos” (a few). The best way to understand how they work is by watching the example below,
Important: as you see, “un poco de” do not agree in gender. It has the same form for masculine and feminine. In other words, it could be considered an unusual language exception.
Probably, you are wondering what is the difference between “un poco de” and “un poco” but also between “unos pocos” and “pocos”.
First, let me say that it is something very relative or subjective. Using them would depend on the speaker's point of view or the context. Let’s check out the table below,
Note: “un poco de” refers to a positive context while “poco” refers to a negative one. For example, imagen that you are in a restaurant and you need to pay for the bill. You ask your friend to help you to pay, but his/her answer is, “yo tengo poco dinero”. It means he/she can not help you due to his lack of money (it is a negative answer).
In the opposite case, your friend’s answer is, “no problem, yo tengo un poco de dinero”. It means your friend can help you with some money but not much since he/she does not have enough money to cover his part of the bill (it would be considered as a positive answer although he can not fully pay his part of the bill).
Keep in mind that the use of “poco”, “unos pocos” and “un poco de” is always relative. It would depend on how much money you consider as little, enough, or much.
Here are some helpful examples,
Such as English, in Spanish, the verb “tener” can be used to describe the inherent characteristics of a subject.
Note: when the object (barba, ojos, cabello, labios and so on) are described by an adjective, the article can be omitted.
Here are some examples,
Note: using “negro” to describe people's color in Spanish is not considered racist. As long as I know, using the equivalent in English “negre” would be considered an offense. Nevertheless, in Spanish, you can feel free to say “negro” because it is the natural and right way to describe black people in Spanish. Fortunately, in Latin America we are a mix of people from all around the world and racism is not an issue for us.
It is very common to find Latin-American families with members of all colors, religions, creeds, and ideologies. My family is a good example, my mom is white, my father is black, my sisters are brown, some uncles and cousins are Catholic and some of them are Jews.
A: ¿Cómo es tu mamá?
B: Mi mamá es alta y delgada. Ella tiene los ojos marrones y el cabello largo.
Mi mamá es muy hermosa. ¿Y tu mamá?
A: Mi mamá es baja y un poco gorda. Ella tiene los ojos grandes y la sonrisa hermosa.
Mi mamá es muy inteligente.
Note: “un poco de” + nouns.
“un poco” + adjectives.
When “un poco de” is placed in front of adjectives, the “de” preposition must be omitted and regardless of the gender of the subject, it always must be expressed in a male form, "un poco".
Moreover, we can use “tener” to describe things, places, food, and so on.
While in English speaker only use the verb “to be” to describe human needs, in Spanish, we use two verbs, “estar” and “tener”. However, it is much more common that Spanish native speakers use the verb “tener” instead of the verb “estar”.
Yo estoy hambriento. (estar)
Yo tengo hambre. (tener)
Both sentences above are translated as “I’m hungry”. However, as I said before, the second sentence is much more common for daily talk.
Note: we use “estar” because human needs are changeable.
Let’s see some useful examples,
Important: it is very common that students confuse the use of “muy” and “mucho/a”. For example, it is a common mistake that you guys say “yo tengo muy hambre”.
“Muy” is only used in front of adjectives and “mucho/a” only in front of nouns. Since “hambre” is not an adjective but a noun the right way would be “yo tengo mucha hambre”.
You have not understood yet? Refer to the example above,
Does the example above make sense? No, right? In English, it does not make sense, in Spanish either.
A: ¿Tienes sueño?
B: Sí, un poco ¿y tú?
A: Yo también.
A: ¿Quién tiene hambre?
B: Yo y Roberto tenemos mucha hambre.
A: Yo tengo un poco de pasta en el refrigerador.
B: Muchas gracias.
Like human needs, in some other cases we prefer using the verb “tener + nouns” than “to be + adjectives”. It is something that students will learn by practicing as time goes by and they start to immerse in the language.
Important: as I said before, in Spanish, we can use both verbs “tener” and “estar” to refers to the same feeling, sensation, physical state, or condition. In other words, “Yo tengo hambre” and “Yo estoy hambriento” mean the same.
However, sometimes it would not be the same as the previous example above. It is not common but sometimes happens.
“Yo tengo calor”. -> “I am hot”. (it is very hot weather. I’m sweating)
“Yo estoy caliente”. -> “I am horny”. (sexual meaning)
“Yo soy caliente”. -> “I am horny person”.
Please, avoid saying, “Yo estoy/soy caliente”, if you don’t want people make of fun of you.
“Yo tengo frío”. -> “I am cold”. (I’m cold because it is winter and is very cold)
“Yo estoy frío”. -> "Hypothermia". (hipotermia in Spanish)
“Yo soy frío”. -> “I’m a cold person”. (a bad person with no feelings)
Note: Caliente (adjective) / Calor (noun)
Frío (adjective and noun at the same time)
Keeping these difference in mind would be enough at this level; and avoiding “yo estoy/soy caliente” would make your life easier among Spanish speakers.
One of the interesting differences between Spanish and English is how we approach age. In Spanish, we are not the age, we have it (a Spanish saying says, “years weigh" because we carry them in our backs. Maybe, that's why old people walk hunchbacked).
Unlike English, In Spanish, we say, “I have 32 years of age”.
Note: in the first example above, “Yo tengo 32 años de edad” -> “I have 32 years of age”, the red part can be omitted if it is obvious that the conversation is about age. Otherwise, it would be convenient to add it because you can also have “years of experiences”. For example,
“Yo tengo 8 años de experiencia enseñando español”. -> “I have 8 years of experience teaching Spanish”.
Note: it is also possible that the speaker omitted even the word “años”. For example,
A: Yo tengo 32 ¿y tú?
B: Yo tengo la misma edad.
A: ¿En qué mes naciste?
B: Yo nací en marzo
A: Yo también nací el mismo mes.
B: ¿En serio?
Note: nacer -> be born. Naciste and nací correspond to the nacer verb in the past tense, which we will study later.
I know you are wondering now how to ask for age, but this lesson is getting long, and I would prefer to teach you in the next lesson which in my opinion is the right time to do it.
This is the last use of the verb “tener” in this lesson. First, let me introduce its basic grammar structure,
Subject + tener que + infinitive verb + complement.
So, let’s see some examples,
As I told you before in this lesson, “mucho”, “poco” and “suficiente” work as adjectives and adverbs. In the table above, in examples six and seven the words “poco” and “mucho” work as adverbs. The good news is that adverbs do not agree in gender and number. In other words, the form is always the same, they never change.
The other example that we must look at is the number eight, “todo el día, todos los días”. The word “todo” -> (all/whole/everything) works as the adjectives “mucho” and “poco”. “Todo” agrees in gender and number with the noun that precedes.
Therefore, we have “todo”, “todos” “toda” and “todas”.
Here are some other examples,
Note: look at the last example above, “todo” or “todas las cosas” have the same meaning, “everything” (pronoun).
The translation of “todas las cosas” word for word is “all the things”.
Finally, check the table below. There is important information that it would be very convenient to learn.
Note: “todo” just like “mucho”, “poco” and “suficiente” also could work as adverb, but that is a story for another lesson.
A: ¿Qué tienes que hacer hoy?
B: Tengo que estudiar. Mañana tengo un examen de español.
A: Buena suerte.
B: Muchas gracias.
A: ¿Qué tienes que comprar en el supermercado?
B: Tengo que comprar arroz, pollo y azúcar.