To have in Spanish or not to have .... introducing the verb, tener.

Let's explore how to say to have in Spanish, using the verb, tener. It's a very important verb with a variety of uses and meanings.

What do these three phrases have in common?

I am thirty years old.

I have some money.

I feel like eating a fruit salad today.

The answer: Each of these phrases uses the Spanish verb tener, which generally means “to have.” Tener is one of those multifaceted verbs used in many different ways and situations. Let’s explore some of these uses.


This form of the verb means “I have.” But you’ll be surprised by how it can be used:

Tengo hambre. I am hungry.
Tengo frío. I am cold. (or alternately, I feel cold.)
Tengo miedo. I am frightened. (or alternately, I feel frightened.)

The literal translation for each is as follows:

I have hunger.
I have cold.
I have fear.

But in English, we are accustomed to saying, “I am hungry,” not “I have hunger.”

Here are more examples:

Tengo sed. I am thirsty.
Tengo sueño . I am sleepy.
Tengo prisa. I am in a hurry.

There are many instances where the English translation of tengo is, indeed, “I have:”

Tengo hipo. I have the hiccups.
Tengo fiebre. I have a fever.
Tengo diez centavos. I have ten cents.
Tengo una bicicleta. I have a bicycle.
Tengo que viajar. I have to travel.

Conjugating the Spanish verb Tener in the Present Tense

yo tengo I have
tú tienes you have
usted tiene you have (formal)
él tiene he has
ella tiene she has
nosotros tenemos we have
ellos tienen they have

Practice these phrases:

Yo tengo que cocinar ahora.
I have to cook now.

Tú tienes ojos bellos.
You have beautiful eyes.

Usted tiene que leer esto.
You have to read this. (formal)

Él tiene la llave.
He has the key.

Ella tiene una caja.
She has a box.

Nosotros tenemos dos hijos.
We have two sons. (or, We have two children.)

Ellos tienen una hija.
They have a daughter.

Using Tener In Questions

Use these examples as guidelines to form questions with the verb tener:

¿Tengo que tomar el examen hoy?
Do I have to take the exam today?

¿Tienes un mapa?
Do you have a map?

¿Tiene usted un mapa?
Do you have a map? (formal)

¿Tiene él la maleta?
Does he have the suitcase?

¿Tiene ella un hermano?
Does she have a brother?

¿Tenemos nosotros los papeles?
Do we have the papers?

¿Tienen ellos sus pasaportes?
Do they have their passports?

Using Tener Ganas De -- “To Feel Like” or “To Want To”

This term is used when you’re expressing that you would like something, or that you’re in the mood for a specific activity. These examples will clarify the use of tener ganas de:

Tengo ganas de nadar.
I feel like swimming. (or alternately, I’m in the mood to swim.)

No tengo ganas de trabajar.
I don’t feel like working.

Tengo ganas de comer helado.
I’d like to eat ice cream. (or alternately, I’m in the mood for ice cream.)

Él no tiene ganas de salir esta tarde.
He does not feel like going out this afternoon. (or alternately, He would rather not go out this afternoon.)

Nosotros no tenemos ganas de caminar.
We don’t feel like walking. (or alternately, We would rather not walk.)

Other Common Uses of Tener

In everyday conversations, you’ll hear and use some form of the verb tener in a variety of ways:

¿Cuántos años tienes?
How old are you?

Tengo treinta años.
I am thirty years old.

¡Qué tengas suerte!
Good luck!

¡Qué tengas buen viaje!
Have a good trip!

Tengo que hacer algo.
I have to do something.

Él tiene mal humor.
He is in a bad mood.

¡Aquí tienes!
Here you are! (as when being handed something)

Written by Graciela Sholander.

Learn Spanish Help. Copyright 2011.

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