Unit 3: Introduction to the present tense and adjectives

3.6 Present Tense of tener and Idioms with tener

Tener means “to have” in the sense of “to own” or “to possess.”

Person Singular Plural
1st tengo tenemos
2nd tienes tenéis
3rd tiene tienen


Tengo tres hijos. I have three children.
¿Tienes una casa grande? Do you have a large house?

Many of its most common uses come in the form of idioms, almost all of which are translated as “to be”:

tener … años to be… years old
tener calor to be hot, warm (applied to a person [or animal])
tener celos to be jealous
tener cuidado to be careful
tener la culpa to be at fault, to be to blame
tener éxito (false friend) to be successful
tener frío to be cold (applied to a person [or animal])
tener hambre* to be hungry
tener miedo to be afraid
tener prisa to be in a hurry
(no) tener razón to be right (wrong)
tener sed to be thirsty
tener suerte to be lucky
tener vergüenza to be ashamed

*Although the cognate is not obvious, it is “famine.” In the evolution of Spanish, a late shift occurred, by which many words beginning with f changed to h, to put it very simply. You will encounter other such words in this text that underwent the same phenomenon. Huir (“to flee”), for example, was once fuir and is related to “fugitive” (someone who flees, Spanish fugitivo).

Translated literally, these expressions, when conjugated, are stating, “I have… years, she has cold, etc.,” As such, años, calor, and all other words presented here are nouns, which are modified by adjectives. Therefore, you will see a form of the adjective mucho (or poco [“little”] or the phrase un poco de [“a little (bit of)] modifying these nouns, not the adverb muy:

Tienen mucha sed. They are very thirsty.
Alonso tiene mucho éxito. Alonso is very successful.
Tengo un poco de prisa I’m in a little bit of a hurry.

Two other common idioms with tener exist. In the first one, after the conjugated form of the verb, que is used followed by an infinitive, translating as “to have to do something.” Tener ganas de + infinitive means “to feel like doing something.” Since ganas (literally, “desires” or “hunger”) is a noun, like in the idioms above, it too is modified by a form of mucho, as you can see in the last example.

Tenemos que esperar. We have to wait.
¿Tienes que estudiar? Do you have to study?
Tengo ganas de descansar. I feel like resting.
Amelia no tiene muchas ganas de estudiar. Amelia does not feel much like studying.


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