15 Must-Know ‘Tener’ Idiomatic Expressions


As you may know, ‘tener’ is one of the most important verbs in Spanish. Besides its regular uses, there are also some common idiomatic expressions with ‘tener’ that you should learn. 

Since these phrases can help you sound more natural, I’ve compiled 15 popular ‘tener’ idioms that you should know. The good thing is that, in addition to learning new vocabulary, you’ll be able to practice ‘tener’ conjugations.

These are the ‘tener’ idiomatic expressions that we’ll go through:

  1. Tener cuidado
  2. Tener ganas de
  3. Tener en cuenta
  4. Tener lugar
  5. No tener ni pies ni cabeza
  6. Tener sentido
  7. Tener vista de lince
  8. Tener a bien
  9. No tener dos dedos de frente
  10. Tener en ascuas
  11. Tener mala leche
  12. Tener en la punta de la lengua
  13. Tener la lengua larga
  14. Tener pinta
  15. Tener en vilo

By the end of it, you’ll know different idioms that you can apply in your daily conversations. 

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1. Tener cuidado – To be careful

‘Tener cuidado’ means ‘to be careful’ or ‘to take care’. Just like in English, this expression can be applied in endless scenarios, but it’s frequently used as an imperative to tell people to beware of something.

There are two major ways of using this expression. The first one, to tell people to be careful with something. 

[‘Tener’ conjugated] + cuidado + [con] + [definite article] + [noun]

Ten cuidado con los coches.
Be careful with the cars.

Tengan cuidado con la estufa.
Be careful with the stove.

¿Tuviste cuidado con el bebé?
Were you careful with the baby?

And the second, to warn them to be careful when performing an action. 

[‘Tener’ conjugated] + cuidado + de + [complement]

Ten cuidado de que no se note esa mancha.
Be careful not to show that stain.

Vicky, ten cuidado de no romper los platos. 
Vicky, be careful of not breaking the dishes. 

Tengan cuidado de que no se caiga el niño.
Take care the child does not fall.

Tengan cuidado de que la puerta esté cerrada.
Take care the door is closed.

2. Tener ganas de – To feel like something

In Spanish, we use the idiom tener ganas to talk about the things or activities that we desire or crave to do. In other words, this ‘tener’ idiom is a casual way of saying ‘feel like something’ or ‘want something’.

[‘Tener’ conjugated] + ganas de + [verb in infinitive] + (complement)

¿Tienes ganas de jugar?
Do you feel like playing?

Tengo ganas de ir a la playa.
I want to go to the beach.

No tengo ganas de ver películas.
I don’t feel like watching movies.

As mentioned before, you can use this expression to talk about the activities that you feel like doing, but also to describe the things you feel like having: 

‘Tener’ conjugated + ganas de + (determiner) + [noun] 

¿Tienes ganas de pizza?
Do you feel like having pizza?

Emily tiene ganas de unos zapatos nuevos. 
Emily wants a new pair of shoes. 

¿Hay algo más de comer? No tenemos ganas de tacos. 
Is there something else to eat? We don’t feel like having tacos.

3. Tener en cuenta – To take into account

Another extremely common phrase in Spanish is ‘tener en cuenta’. This phrase expresses consideration and can be translated as ‘to keep in mind’, ‘to consider’ or ‘to take into account’

Tener en cuenta can be applied to many situations, but we typically use it to tell people something they need to contemplate beforehand.

[‘Tener’ conjugated] + en cuenta + (que) + [complement]

Ten en cuenta que la tienda cierra temprano.
Keep in mind that the store closes early.

Tengan en cuenta que en Canadá hace mucho frío.
Keep in mind that it is freezing in Canada.

La verdad no tenía en cuenta lo caro que era viajar a otro país.
I honestly didn’t consider how expensive it was to travel to another country.

4. Tener lugar – To take place

‘Tener lugar’ is a formal idiom with ‘tener’ that we use to express that something happened. This expression is the direct translation of ‘to take place’. Since this idiom is a bit more formal, you’ll probably hear it from news presenters, other types of journalism, or invitations to certain events, such as weddings.

[Noun] + [‘tener’ conjugated] + lugar + [complement]

La protesta tuvo lugar el 6 de mayo.
The protest took place on May 6.

La celebración tendrá lugar el próximo año.
The celebration will take place next year.

El evento tendrá lugar en el Palacio de los Deportes.
The event will take place at the Palacio de los Deportes.

5. No tener ni pies ni cabeza – To not make any sense at all

If you want to point out that something has no foundation, you can use the phrase ‘no tener ni pies ni cabeza’. Since we use this expression to say that something is senseless, it means ‘to not make any sense at all’.

[Noun] + no + [‘tener’ conjugated] + ni pies ni cabeza

Este ensayo no tiene ni pies ni cabeza.
This essay doesn’t make any sense at all.

Tu argumento no tiene ni pies ni cabeza.
Your argument doesn’t make any sense at all.

Sus ideas a veces no tienen ni pies ni cabeza.
His ideas sometimes don’t make any sense at all.

6. Tener sentido – To make sense

Another expression with ‘tener’ related to coherence is ‘tener sentido’, which means ‘to make sense’. Yes, I know it’s weird for you that we use the verb ‘tener’ instead of ‘hacer’ (to make/to do) to create this meaning, but this is what we do.  

[Noun] + (no) + [‘tener’ conjugated] + (adverb) + sentido

Esta película no tiene sentido.
This movie makes little sense.

Sus canciones no tienen sentido.
His songs don’t make sense.

Lo que dices tiene mucho sentido.
What you say makes a lot of sense.

Take Note: Besides meaning ‘make sense’, we can also use this expression as tener sentido del humor, which means ‘to have a sense of humor’.

Me gustan los hombres que tienen sentido del humor.
I like men who have a sense of humor.

7. Tener vista de lince – To have sharp eyes

One way to compliment someone for their sharp sight is the phrase ‘tener vista de lince’, which would be the equivalent of the English expression ‘to have sharp eyes’.

(Noun) + [‘tener’ conjugated] + vista de lince

Cuando era joven tenía vista de lince.
When I was young, I had sharp eyes.

Los aviadores deben tener vista de lince.
Pilots must have sharp eyes.

¿Cómo alcanzas a ver eso? Tienes vista de lince.
How do you get to see that? You have sharp eyes.

8. Tener a bien – To be so kind as to

In Spanish, when someone ‘tiene a bien’ consider a situation convenient or appropriate. In other words, it means they are okay with it. As a result, ‘tener a bien’ means ‘to be so kind as to’ or ‘kindly’

This idiomatic expression with ‘tener’ is often used to ask for favors, but since it’s a formal phrase, you’ll probably find it in books, movies, and TV shows.

[‘Tener’ conjugated] + a bien + [verb in infinitive] + [complement]

Ten a bien considerar lo que digo.
Be so kind as to consider what I say.

Por favor, tenga a bien aceptar mi solicitud.
Please, be so kind as to accept my application.

¿Crees que Miguel tenga a bien verme hoy?
Do you think Miguel will be so kind as to see me today?

9. No tener dos dedos de frente – To be slow on the uptake

Hearing somebody describing another person using the phrase ‘no tener dos dedos de frente’ is definitely not a good thing. By using this idiomatic expression with ‘tener’, we’re saying that a person lacks common sense or is a little bit dumb

So, no tener dos dedos de frente can be translated as ‘to be slow on the uptake’ and we normally use it in informal contexts.

(Noun) + no + [‘tener’ conjugated] + dos dedos de frente

Luis no tiene dos dedos de frente.
Luis is slow on the uptake.

Nunca entiendes, no tienes dos dedos de frente.
You never understand; you’re slow on the uptake.

Cada vez que habla, demuestra que no tiene dos dedos de frente.
Every time he talks, he shows he’s slow on the uptake.

10. Tener en ascuas – To be on tenterhooks

Having someone in a state of intrigue can be described by the expression ‘tener en ascuas’. Its English equivalents would be ‘to be on tenterhooks’ or ‘to be on edge’. We can use this phrase under many circumstances. But it usually refers to a sensation of eagerness or anticipation that a person feels when waiting for someone to tell them exciting news.

[Direct object pronoun] + [‘tener’ conjugated] + en ascuas

Gracias por decirme, me tenías en ascuas.
Thanks for telling me; I was on tenterhooks.

Llámame en cuanto puedas, me tienes en ascuas.
Call me as soon as you can;  you have me on edge.

¿Qué pasó en la fiesta de anoche? Nos tienes en ascuas.
What happened at the party last night? You have us on edge.

11. Tener mala leche – To have bad intentions

In some countries, the informal expression ‘tener mala leche’ means ‘to have bad intentions’. You’ll probably encounter this phrase more frequently to describe someone acting in bad faith, but it can also mean ‘to have a bad temper’. However, this meaning is only used in Castilian Spanish

(Noun) +  ‘tener’ conjugated + mala leche

Ten cuidado con él, tiene mala leche.
Be careful with him; he has bad intentions.

No lo conozco, pero parece que tiene mala leche.
I don’t know him, but he seems to have a bad temper.

¿Crees que ese muchacho tenga mala leche?
Do you think that boy has a bad temper

12. Tener en la punta de la lengua – To have something on the tip of your tongue

‘Tener en la punta de la lengua’ is another popular ‘tener’ idiom. Since this expression means ‘to have something on the tip of your tongue’, Spanish speakers use it to describe the feeling of being about to remember something but not being able to.

[‘Tener’ conjugated] + (noun) + en la punta de la lengua

Tengo su nombre en la punta de la lengua.
I have his name on the tip of my tongue.

Lo tenía en la punta de la lengua, pero lo olvidé.
It was on the tip of my tongue, but I forgot it.

Espera, no me digas, lo tengo en la punta de la lengua.
Wait, don’t tell me. It’s on the tip of my tongue.

13. Tener la lengua larga – To have a loose tongue

The direct translation of ‘tener la lengua larga’ is ‘to have a long tongue’, but as you can imagine, this is a figurative way of saying (usually in a tone of complaint) that someone doesn’t respect boundaries and talks too much or likes to gossip. Its English equivalent is ‘to have a loose tongue’.

(Noun) + ‘tener’ conjugated + la lengua larga

Discúlpame, tengo la lengua larga.
Forgive me, I have a loose tongue.

No soporto a la gente que tiene la lengua larga.
I can’t stand people who have a loose tongue.

No le cuentes a Diana porque tiene la lengua larga.
Don’t tell Diana because she has a loose tongue.

14. Tener pinta – To look like

In slang, ‘tener pinta’ refers to the way people and things seem. It can be translated as ‘to look like’ and it’s generally used to describe one’s first impressions of someone or something, whether they are positive or negative.

(Noun) + [‘tener’ conjugated] + pinta + de

¿Tengo pinta de músico?
Do I look like a musician?

Andrés tiene pinta de mujeriego.
Andrés looks like a womanizer.

Tu amigo tiene pinta de abogado.
Your friend looks like a lawyer.

Take Note: A variation of this idiom is tener buena pinta, which means ‘to look good’, as well as its opposite version tener mala pinta, translated as ‘to look bad’.

Ese restaurante tiene buena pinta.
That restaurant looks good.

La serie que comencé a ver tiene buena pinta.
The show that I started to watch looks good.

15. Tener en vilo – To have in suspense

Although ‘tener en ascuas’ and ‘tener en vilo’ are very similar expressions, the latter implies more nervousness. As a result, we use it to express a negative feeling of uncertainty. It can also be translated as ‘to be on tenterhooks’ or ‘to have in suspense’.

Keep in mind that the conjugation of ‘tener’ will depend on the person or thing that has you in suspense.

[Direct object pronoun] + [‘tener’ conjugated] + en vilo

Aún no nos dan noticias, nos tienen en vilo.
They still do not give us news; they have us in suspense.

El estado de salud de mi hermano me tiene en vilo.
The state of my brother’s health has me in suspense.

Es muy tarde y no has llegado. Me tienes en vilo.
It is too late, and you have not arrived. You have me in suspense.

Wrapping Up

Many people think that sentences like tener años or tener frío are ‘tener expressions’. However, those are just common uses of the verb ‘tener’. This doesn’t mean that the verb ‘tener’ doesn’t have idioms. 

In fact, there are many of them and, in this article, we’ve learned the 15 most common expressions with this verb. Besides being common, these ‘tener’ idioms will be a great addition to your vocabulary. 

Hopefully, you can already identify what phrases will help you convey your ideas in a better way. ¡Buena suerte!

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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