Grammar Guide
The Spanish Verb "Tener"

The Spanish Verb "Tener"

Quick Answer

The irregular verb tener has three main uses in Spanish:

  • with the meaning to have (referring to ownership, possession)

Yo tengo tres manzanas.
I have three apples.

  • in set expressions, with equivalents in English typically using to be

Francisco tiene muchísima sed.
Francisco is very thirsty.

  • with the conjunction que to mean to have to

Nosotros tenemos que comprar nuevos zapatos.
We have to buy new shoes.

Conjugating the Irregular Verb Tener

The irregular verb tener is one of the more difficult Spanish verbs to conjugate and to use correctly. But don’t worry — we’ll go over all of it right here!

The Present Tense

Let’s get started with the present tense. We notice the following:

  • tener is an -er verb (see more here)
  • specifically, tener is a verb ending in -ner (so a g will appear in certain forms)
  • tener is a stem shifting verb from e > ie

These three traits explain the present tense forms of the verb tener:

él, ella, usted
ellos, ellas, ustedes

Now let’s make a few example sentences using the verb tener in the present tense:

Mis padres tienen muchos libros.
My parents have a lot of books.
Nosotros no tenemos tiempo para tus excusas.
We don’t have time for your excuses.
La UNAM tiene más de 140 bibliotecas en sus varias sedes.
UNAM has over 140 libraries on its various campuses.

The Future and Conditional Tenses

In the future and conditional tenses, the verb tener is irregular. Instead of using the infinitive as a stem, we instead use the irregular future and conditional stem tendr-.

él, ella, usted
ellos, ellas, ustedes

Now let’s see some examples using the verb tener in the future and conditional tenses:

Siempre tendrás el apoyo de tus hermanas.
You will always have the support of your sisters.
Yo tendría más amigos si pudiera hablar mejor español.
I would have more friends if I could speak better Spanish.
Tendrán 45 minutos para terminar su trabajo.
You will have 45 minutes to finish your work.

The Preterite (Simple Past)

The preterite, or simple past, form of the verb tener is completely irregular. It is very similar to the preterite form of the verb "estar", using tuv- as a stem.

él, ella, usted
ellos, ellas, ustedes

Here we have some example sentences using the verb tener in the preterite tense:

Apenas tuve tiempo de ponerme la ropa.
I barely had time to put on clothes.
Los González tuvieron muchas dificultades para vender su casa.
The Gonzalezes had a lot of trouble selling their house.
Tuvimos la oportunidad de visitar el laboratorio de la Dra. Sánchez Vázquez.
We had the opportunity to visit Dr. Sanchez’s lab.

Other Tenses & Verb Forms of Tener

There are many more forms of the verb tener. Some, like the past imperfect, are completely regular. Others, like the subjunctive use the irregular stems mentioned above. To see all of the possible forms of tener check out our full conjugation of the verb “tener”.

Expressions using the verb tener

In Spanish, we have a number of phrases that use the verb tener + a noun. These are generally equivalent to English phrases using the verb to be + an adjective.

In English, we have phrases like to have fun that include the verb to have. But we don’t actually possess the fun, we just mean that we are enjoying ourselves. This same thing happens in Spanish as well. We can use the verb tener, which basically means to have, in phrases like tener sed (to be thirsty). It doesn’t mean that we literally possess thirst, only that we are feeling thirsty.

Let’s look at some examples:

Phrase in SpanishMeaning in English
tener hambre
to be hungry
tener sed
to be thirsty
tener frío
to be cold
tener miedo
to be afraid
tener sueño
to be sleepy
tener cuidado
to be careful

Now let’s use some of these in some example sentences:

La abuela siempre tiene frío pero nunca lleva chaqueta.
Grandma is always cold but never wears a jacket.
¡Tengan cuidado! Hay hielo deslizante en la acera.
Be careful! There’s slippery ice on the sidewalk.
De joven teníamos miedo de las arañas.
When we were young we were afraid of spiders.

¡Tengo ganas de aprender más!

Want to learn more phrases that use the verb tener? Check out our complete list here!

The phrase tener que

In English we have the phrase have to, meaning need to, which is totally unrelated to the original meaning of the verb to have. In Spanish, we have this as well. We can use the phrase tener que + infinitive to mean to have to, to need to.

Let’s look at some examples:

Lo siento, pero tengo que irme ahora mismo.
I’m sorry, but I have to leave right now.
Carlos tiene que buscar a una niñera para este sábado.
Carlos has to look for a babysitter for this Saturday.
Los partidos políticos argentinos tienen que llegar a un acuerdo.
The Argentinian political parties have to come to an agreement.

Do you just have to know more about tener? Check out our dictionary entry for tener for more info!