Tener in Spanish: Conjugation, Meaning & Uses


In this short guide, we will cover the following topics for ‘tener’ in Spanish:

  1. What does ‘tener’ mean?
  2. Tener Conjugations
  3. How to Use ‘Tener’ in Spanish with Examples
  4. Expressions & Idioms with ‘Tener’
  5. Synonyms of ‘Tener’ in Spanish

What does ‘tener’ mean?

Definition – ‘Tener’ means to have, possess, own or hold. It is used when expressing or talking about possession, obligation, age, feelings or physical conditions. It is most commonly used and translated as ‘to have’.

‘Tener’ has multiple meanings and definitions in Spanish, depending on the context and situation. Below there are the definitions along with their corresponding translations in English: 

  1. When expressing possession, ‘tener’ is translated as ‘to have’. 
  2. In Spanish, ‘tener’ is used to say people’s age. In this context, it’s translated as ‘to be’. 
  3. When talking about obligation or duties, this verb means ‘to have to’ or ‘to must’.  
  4. When used to describe feelings or physical conditions, tener means ‘to be’.

Take Note: Even though tener is the direct translation of ‘to have’, in Spanish, we don’t use this verb to form compound tenses. In this case, we use the verb haber. Additionally, in Spanish we use ‘tener’ to talk about someone’s age. Although in English we use the verb ‘to be’, in Spanish using ser or estar (to be) is incorrect and hence we use ‘tener’ instead.

‘Tener’ Conjugations 

In Spanish, ‘tener’ is an irregular verb. This means that in all tenses, with the exception of imperfect, the stem of tener changes as shown below by the graphic.

graphic explaining the stem changes for tener in spanish

Below there is a conjugation chart for ‘tener’ with the most commonly used tenses. 

Indicative

Present tense conjugation

The stem change for ‘yo becomes ‘teng’. The stem for ‘nosotros’ is ten while for the rest of the subject pronouns you will use tien.  

Person ConjugationTranslation
YoTengoI have
TienesYou have
Él / Ella / UstedTieneHe/She has
NosotrosTenemosWe have
VosotrosTenéisYou have
Ustedes / Ellos / EllasTienenThey/You have

Preterite tense conjugation

In this case, the verb changes its stem to tuv. In order to conjugate it correctly, you need to add the proper endings for each person.   

PersonConjugationTranslation
YoTuveI had
TuvisteYou had
Él / Ella / UstedTuvoHe/She/You  had
NosotrosTuvimosWe had
VosotrosTuvisteisYou had
Ustedes / Ellos / EllasTuvieronThey/You had

Imperfect tense conjugation

In the imperfect tense, the verb ‘tener’ is not irregular. To conjugate it, you just need to replace -er with the proper ending for each person. 

PersonConjugationTranslation
YoTeníaI had
TeníasYou had
Él / Ella / UstedTeníaHe/She/You  had
NosotrosTeníamosWe had
VosotrosTeníaisYou had
Ustedes / Ellos / EllasTeníanThey/You had

Future tense conjugation

In the future tense, the verb ‘tener’ is irregular and changes its stem to tendr. To conjugate this verb properly, add the correct endings for the future tense. 

PersonConjugationTranslation
YoTendréI will have
TendrásYou will have
Él / Ella / UstedTendráHe/She/You will have
NosotrosTendremosWe will have
VosotrosTendréisYou will have
Ustedes / Ellos / EllasTendránThey/You will have

Conditional tense conjugation

Just like the future, tendr is the stem that you use to conjugate tener in the conditional tense. This stem works for all the subjects, just make sure to use the proper ending. 

PersonConjugationTranslation
YoTendría I would have
Tendrías You would have
Él / Ella / Usted Tendría He/She/You would have
Nosotros Tendríamos We would have
VosotrosTendríaisYou would have
Ustedes / Ellos / Ellas Tendrían You/they would have

Progressive conjugation

Tener in present progressive requires you to use its gerund form ‘teniendo’. Note that gerunds remain the same no matter the tense and person that you’re using in your conjugation.

graphic explaining how to conjugate tener in present progressive

Perfect tenses conjugation

Tenido is the participle form of ‘tener’. This word is used to conjugate present tenses (such as present perfect).

conjugation chart for perfect tenses conjugations in spanish

Tener Subjunctive Conjugations

Present subjunctive conjugation

Subjunctive is a more advanced, but yet popular Spanish mood. As an irregular verb, tener changes its stem when conjugated in the subjunctive. In this case, you need to use the stem teng and add the proper ending (underlined in the table below). 

PersonConjugationTranslation
Yo Tenga To have / To be
Tengas To have / To be
Él / Ella / Usted Tengan To have / To be
Nosotros Tengamos To have / To be
VosotrosTengáisTo have / To be
Ustedes / Ellos / Ellas Tengan To have / To be

Imperfect subjunctive conjugations

To conjugate tener in imperfect subjunctive, you need to use the preterit stem (tuv) and add the corresponding endings for each person. Notice that, in this case, there are two conjugations: -iera endings (tuviera) are more common in Latin American Spanish speaking countries, while -iese (tuviese) is more common in Castilian Spanish

PersonConjugationTranslation
Yo Tuviera/TuvieseI had
Tuvieras/TuviesesYou had
Él / Ella / Usted Tuviera/TuvieseHe/She had
Nosotros Tuviéramos/TuviésemosWe had
VosotrosTuvierais/TuvieseisYou had
Ustedes / Ellos / Ellas Tuvieran/TuviesenThey/You had

Perfect subjunctive conjugations

conjugation chart for Spanish perfect subjunctive tenses

Imperative

Positive Imperative conjugation

For ‘ustedes’ and ‘nosotros’, you need to use the same stem that you would use for conjugating in subjunctive (teng). However, this is not applicable for ‘tú’. 

PersonConjugationTranslation
Ten Have
Nosotros Tengamos Let’s have
Ustedes Tengan Have

Take Note: For negative imperative, follows the present subjunctive conjugation (tengas). Like any other Spanish negative sentence, you just need to add the word No before the verb. 

No tengas miedo
Don’t be afraid

How to Use ‘Tener’ in Spanish with Examples

There are four main uses for the verb ‘tener’ in spanish:

  1. Expressing possession
  2. Talking about age
  3. Expressing an obligation or duty
  4. Expressing feelings or physical conditions

We’ll go into more detail and depth about each of these uses below and help you apply these to your daily conversations with sentence structures you can use and examples to practice.

Expressing Possession with ‘tener’

Tener is often used to talk about possession and ownership of things.

As the direct translation of to have, in Spanish, ‘tener’ is used to talk about the objects that people own. In addition to properties and objects, when talking about possession in Spanish, you can also refer to family and personal relationships. 

[Tener conjugated] + [number] + [possession]

Marta tiene dos casas
Marta has two houses

Cuando era niña, yo no tenía mascotas
When I was a kid, I didn’t have any pets

Espero que mañana tengan más suerte
I hope tomorrow you have better luck

Talking about age

In Spanish, tener is the verb that we use to talk about or ask questions about someone or something’s age. In order to do this, you just need to conjugate the verb and add the number that reflects the age that you’re talking about. You can use the following phrase structure and examples as a starting point:

[Tener conjugated] + [number] + años

Mis hermanos tienen ocho y diez años
My brothers are eight and ten years old

El año que viene, tendrás treinta años
Next year, you’ll be thirty years old

Yo no tengo veintidós años, tengo veintitrés
I’m not twenty years old, I’m twenty three 

Using ‘tener’ to talk about obligations and duties

When working with other verbs (in infinitive form), tener expresses that a person has the duty or obligation to do something. In this case, there is a special structure that you need to follow. Check the examples below: 

[Tener conjugated] + que + [verb in infinitive]

Alan tiene que llegar temprano 
Alan has to arrive early 

Nosotras tuvimos que estudiar para el examen
Nosotras had to study for the test

Ya no hay leche, mañana tendremos que comprar
There’s no milk, tomorrow we’ll have to buy

Expressing feelings or physical conditions

In Spanish, ‘tener’ is also used to talk about certain feelings or physical sensations (usually related to medical symptoms). Some adjectives that you can use for this purpose include:

  • Hambre – Hungry
  • Frío – Cold
  • Dolor de cabeza – Headache 
  • Miedo – To be afraid 

[Tener conjugated] + [complement]

Alicia tiene dolor de cabeza
Alicia has a headache 

¿No tienen frío, niñas?
Aren’t you cold, girls?

¿A qué hora vamos a comer? Tenemos hambre
What time are we eating? We’re hungry

Tener Expressions & Idioms

In Spanish, there are many idioms and expressions that use the verb tener and that can help you increase your vocabulary. Some of the most common include: 

Tener en cuenta:  This expression is used to ask or let people know that they need to consider some factors or information before taking action. As a result, tener en cuenta can be translated as ‘to keep in mind’ or ‘to take into account’. It can be used in both formal and informal contexts.

Tener ganas de: In Spanish, tener ganas is an idiomatic expression that people use to express that they want or they feel like doing a certain activity. It can also be used to talk about cravings. Depending on the context, ‘tener ganas’ can be translated as ‘to feel like’, ‘to crave’.

Tener sentido: It’s the direct translation of to make sense. Therefore, we use this phrase to express whether something is logical or not. 

Tener claro: This idiom is used to express that a person understands something or that, in a certain situation, things are clear. It can be translated as ‘to be clear’ or ‘to understand’. 

Tener ángel: We use this expression to describe a charming and graceful person. It means to be charming. 

Synonyms of ‘Tener’ in Spanish

Poseer: In Spanish, poseer is a standard and formal verb that people use to talk about possession. In this context, it’s a formal variation of ‘tener’. As a result, ‘poseer’ can be translated as to have, to own or to possess. 

Ser dueño: It means to own. It can be used instead of ‘tener’ when talking about property or owing objects. We don’t use it to talk about relationships.

Deber: Depending on the context, in Spanish, deber expresses obligation and duty. In this case, it’s a synonym of ‘tener’. Deber is also used to express that a person has a debt. It can also imply that a certain action or event should have taken place. It means ‘to must’, ‘to should’ and ‘to owe’. 

Related Resources:
Difference between haber and tener in Spanish
3 Ways To Ask People’s Age in Spanish
21 Idiomatic Expressions with Tener

Daniela Sanchez

¡Hola! Soy Daniela Sanchez, I’ve taught Spanish in Mexico to a wide array of foreigners. From students and tourists to doctors and soldiers who’ve moved and visited here over the years. During the day I’m a freelancer and marketer, while at night I’m here writing for students of the world wide web looking to learn Spanish. I hope you find what you’re looking here during your journey into Español 🙂 Read More About Me

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