Probably one of the first verbs you ever learned in Spanish was the verb Tener (to have).  Usually meaning possession of something,  ‘tener’ is used often in other ways too.   ‘Tener’ is also used to indicate age of a person or a thing.  Also, ‘tener’ can take the place of the English verb “to be”, like being cold, being hungry, being afraid etc.   And another very handy way to use tener is to indicate an obligation, or having to do something.  Keep in mind that ‘tener’ is an irregular verb. 

First let’s look at some examples of ‘tener’ being used to express possession:

I have a new car- Tengo un auto nuevo.

Do you have any money?- Tiene(s) dinero?

They have a new house. – Tienen una casa nueva.

We have a new Spanish teacher.  Tenemos un profesor nuevo de Español.

Who has my keys? - ¿Quién tiene mis llaves? 

Remember the simple past (Preterit) and the Imperfect?  Look at these examples of ‘tener’ used in these tenses:

I had an accident yesterday. –Tuve un accidente ayer (Simple past).

I used to have a pet named Sam. – Tenía una mascota  llamada Sam (Imperfect).

She used to have a red house. – (Ella) tenía una casa roja. (Imperfect).

We had a lot of work to do yesterday. – Tuvimos mucho trabajo que hacer ayer. (Simple past)

You probably already know that in Spanish when referring to an age of someone or something ‘tener’ is used:

I am 54 years old. – Tengo cincuenta y cuatro años. (Present).

She will be 42 years old in July. – Tendrá cuarenta y dos años en Julio.  (Remember the future tense?).

How old is the house? - ¿Cuantos años tiene la casa? (Present).

They were 25 when they graduated college. – Tenìan veinte cinco años cuando se graduaron (Imperfect).

Tener also takes the place of the English verb “to be” when expressing statements like the following:

I am hungry. – Tengo hambre.

She is cold. – Tiene frío.

He is lucky. – Tiene suerte.

We are in a hurry. – Tenemos prisa.

They are right. – Tienan razón.

You are wrong. – No tiene razón

Are you afraid? – ¿Tiene miedo?

Another way ‘tener’ is used is when an obligation is expressed.  Use ‘tener’ followed by “que” and a raw (infinitive) verb when you want to say ‘having to do something’.

I have to go to El Rey today in order to buy groceries. – Tengo que ir al EL Rey para comprar comestibles.

They have to work in the yard. – Tinen que trabajar en el jardín.

We had to drive all night.  – Tuvimos que manejar toda la noche.

You have to decide right now. – Tiene que decidir ahora mismo.

He has to open the store every morning. – Tiene que abrir la tienda cada manaña.

I used to have to take the subway to work.  – Tenía que tomar el metro a mi trabajo.

We will have to do it tomorrow. – Tendremos que hacerlo manaña.

As you can see, using ‘tener’ in ways other than indicating possession comes in handy.  Concentrate on the various conjugations in the present, past, imperfect, and the future tenses as ‘tener’ will be a verb you will use quite often.   

Hope this helps and thanks for reading!



Hi, my name is Fred.  My background in Spanish is a year in high school
(long ago) and the last five years taking private lessons almost daily, in
the States and in Panamá'.    I am not yet fluent, but maybe I can pass
on to you some tips to help your Spanish learning experience.