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Learn Spanish: Tener Expressions

Cynthia is a digital marketer, writer, and artist. She writes about a variety of topics, especially digital marketing, languages & culture.

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Learning Spanish With Tener Expressions

In English, we use the verb "to be" to express how we feel, whether we're too warm or cold, hungry or thirsty and more.

In Spanish, however, some expressions use the verb "to be" to express how we feel, but other expressions are used with the verb "to have," or tener.

It may seem strange to express yourself saying "I have cold" or "I have pain," but you can think of it like this: you have a feeling. Thus, you have a sensation of being thirsty or hungry, or a feeling of having luck.

These phrases are idiomatic expressions because if you take them word for word, they don't necessarily make sense, but actually convey a clear meaning to the speakers of that language.

For example, in English when we say, "she's yanking her chain," that doesn't literally mean someone is pulling on someone's chain - it's an expression that means someone is teasing a girl or woman. We understand this in English, but someone learning the language might not understand that. Thus, it's an idiomatic expression.

This article will address how to express yourself in Spanish using various phrases that go with the verb tener.

Tener = To Have

The verb tener is one of the most important verbs in Spanish. It means to have but can take on different meanings depending on words that are paired with it.

This verb is irregular in Spanish. It doesn't follow the usual pattern of most verbs and it's best just to memorize all its different forms to help with your communication in Spanish:

The first person singular form = tengo and means I have.

Tengo tres lápices. I have three pencils.

Tengo dos gatos. I have two cats.

Forms of Tener

These are all the forms in the present tense for tener. The words in parenthesis are subject pronouns and are optional in Spanish except to emphasize or clarify.

tener to have

(yo) tengo

I have

(tú) tienes

you (informal) have

(él, ella, usted) tiene

he, she, you (formal) have

(nosotros) tenemos

we have

(ellos, ellas, ustedes) tienen

they, you (all) have

Other forms of tener

In many Latin American countries, the ustedes form is most commonly used to speak to a group of people.

In Spain, the vosotros form of tener is often used when speaking to a group of people, but in less formal situations. A professor might use the vosotros form to speak to students, but in a business meeting, the same person might address the audience using the ustedes form.

(Vosotros) tenéis - you all have

Spanish Expressions with Tener

Let's look at some expressions with tener. Since you'll often be expressing how you feel personally, we'll go with the first person, singular form:

Tengo ___ años - I am ____ years old.

Tengo calor - I'm too warm.

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Tengo frío - I'm cold.

Tengo hambre - I'm hungry.

Tengo sed - I'm thirsty.

Tengo confianza - I'm confident.

Tengo suerte - I'm lucky.

Tengo razón - I'm correct.

Tengo dolor de cabeza - I have a headache.

Tengo prisa - I'm in a hurry.

Tengo miedo (de) - I'm afraid (of)

Tengo vergüenza - I'm ashamed.

Tengo sueño - I'm sleepy.

Tengo cuidado - I'm careful.

If you want to know how to pronounce these, take a look at the video I created below. It will help you understand how to pronounce these different expressions.

A good resource

Study Flashcards

Sometimes it's helpful to have flashcards (without English translations) to help you learn more effectively.

If you are a teacher or a student, feel free to print these off to use for study or use them on a smartboard or computer to quiz yourself - no English is translated with the images below.

These are my own drawings; they are free to use non-commercially.

Practice with Tener

Try a little exercise using tener expressions. Refer back to the expressions above if you can't remember.

  • If the instructions ask, ¿Cómo se dice ______? it means, "How do you say _____?"
  • If the question asks, ¿Qué significa ____? it means, "What does _____ mean?"
  1. ¿Cómo se dice "I'm hungry"?
  2. ¿Qué significa "tengo cuidado"?
  3. ¿Cómo se dice "I'm confident"?
  4. ¿Qué significa "tengo prisa"?
  5. ¿Cómo se dice "I'm ashamed"?

Similar Verbs to Tener

Though the verb tener is irregular, other verbs in Spanish follow the same pattern:

retener - to retain

venir - to come (even though this is a verb with an -ir ending, it's similar to tener except in the nosotros form - venimos)

contener - to contain

entretener - to entertain

obtener - to get or obtain

sostener - to defend or hold up

Questions With Tener

If you're traveling or in a conversation with someone, you'll often get questions to which you'll want to respond using a tener expression.

Here are some common examples:

¿Tienes frío? - Are you (informal) cold?

¿Tienen miedo? - Are they scared?

¿Tiene hambre? - Are you (formal) hungry?

¿Tienes sed? - Are you (informal) thirsty?

¿Tienes sueño? - Are you (informal) sleepy?

Exercise B: More Practice with Tener

By now, you've seen the yo form of tener a lot: the video, the photos, and the examples above. Now, let's try an exercise that will get you using other forms of the verb to help you remember all the different forms.

Instructions: Change the verb to match the subject (or the subject pronoun) of the sentence. Check your answers below.

  1. Tú / tener / hambre.
  2. Ella / tener / sueño.
  3. Ellos / tener / confianza.
  4. Yo / tener / hambre.
  5. Marta / tener / sed.
  6. Nosotros / tener / razón.
  7. Él / tener / prisa.
  8. Tú y yo / tener / frió.
  9. Tito / tener / dolor de cabeza.
  10. Tú / tener / suerte.

More Tener Expressions

Tener que - to have to (do something)

Example: Tengo que hacer mi tarea. I have to do my homework.

Tener lugar - to take place

Example: La actividad tiene lugar a las seis. The event takes place at 6.

Tener dolor de estómago - to have a stomachache

Example: Tatiana tiene dolor de estómago. Tatiana's stomach hurts.

Tener éxito - to be successful

Example: Tengo éxito con mi trabajo. I'm successful with my job.

Tener ganas de + verb - to feel like + verb

Example: Tengo ganas de dormir. I feel like sleeping.

A Few More Tips


If you want to negate any of these expressions or feelings, just add a "no" in front of the tener verb, but after the subject or subject pronoun:

  • No tengo hambre. I'm not hungry.
  • Él no tiene razón. He's not correct.
  • No tenemos frío. We're not cold.

Expressing Extremes:

If you're feeling REALLY strongly about something, add mucho or mucha (meaning "very") in front of the tener verb:

Use "mucho" in front of: sueño, cuidado, éxito, calor, and frío.

Tengo mucho frío. I'm very cold.

Use "mucha" in front of: sed, hambre, suerte, and prisa.

Tiene mucha prisa. He's in a big hurry.

Exercise C: More Practice with All Expressions

Practice makes perfect, right?

See if you can answer the following questions and check your answers below.

  1. ¿Cuántos años tienes? (How old are you?)
  2. ¿Cómo se dice "I have to take a quiz"? (take = tomar, quiz = una prueba)
  3. ¿Tú tienes dolor de cabeza ahora (now)? Sí o no?
  4. Tomas agua (you drink water). Tú tienes _____.
  5. 1 + 1 = 2. Tengo ______.
  6. ¿Tienes que estudiar (to study) esta noche (tonight)?
  7. Nieva (it's snowing). Ella _____ frío.

After Trying the Exercises and Activities, Test Yourself!

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. ¿Cómo se dice "How old are you?"
    • ¿Cuántos años estás?
    • ¿Cuántos años tienes?
  2. ¿Cómo se dice "she's correct"?
    • Tiene razón.
    • Tienes razón.
  3. Traduce: You and I have three cats.
    • Tengo tres gatos.
    • Tenemos dos gatos.
    • Nosotros tenemos gatos.
    • Tú y yo tenemos tres gatos.
  4. 5+4 = 7
    • No tengo razón.
    • Tengo razón.
  5. Nieva (it's snowing).
    • Tengo frío.
    • No tengo frío.
  6. ¿Cómo se dice "I'm twenty years old"?
    • Tengo veinte años.
    • Estoy veinte años.
  7. Son las tres de la mañana. (It's three in the morning.)
    • Tengo prisa.
    • Tengo calor.
    • Tengo sueño.
    • Tengo suerte.
  8. ¿Cómo se dice "I'm afraid of monsters (mónstruos)"?
    • Tienes miedo de mónstruos.
    • Tienes miedo.
    • Tiene miedo de mónstruos.
    • Tengo miedo de mónstruos.
  9. ¿Cómo se dice "I'm VERY hungry"?
    • Tengo mucho hambre.
    • Tengo mucha sed.
    • Tengo hambre.
    • Tengo mucha hambre.
  10. Traduce: Teo is very lucky.
    • Tengo suerte.
    • Tiene mucha suerte.
    • Tiene mucho sueño.
    • Tiene suerte.
  11. ¿Cóme se dice "she's successful"?
    • Tiene éxito.
    • Tiene suerte.

Answer Key

  1. ¿Cuántos años tienes?
  2. Tiene razón.
  3. Tú y yo tenemos tres gatos.
  4. No tengo razón.
  5. Tengo frío.
  6. Tengo veinte años.
  7. Tengo sueño.
  8. Tengo miedo de mónstruos.
  9. Tengo mucha hambre.
  10. Tiene mucha suerte.
  11. Tiene éxito.

Interpreting Your Score

If you got between 0 and 3 correct answers: Estudia más. Study more.

If you got between 4 and 6 correct answers: Estudia más. Study more.

If you got between 7 and 8 correct answers: Estudia más, pero estás aprendiendo. Study more, but you're learning.

If you got 9 correct answers: Hiciste bien. You did well.

If you got between 10 and 11 correct answers: ¡Perfecto! Perfect!

Answers to Exercise B

  1. Tú tienes hambre.*
  2. Ella tiene sueño.
  3. Ellos tienen confianza.
  4. Yo tengo hambre.
  5. Marta tiene sed.**
  6. Nosotros tenemos razón.
  7. Él tiene prisa.
  8. Tú y yo tenemos frío.***
  9. Tito tiene dolor de cabeza.
  10. Tú tienes suerte.

* Subject pronouns are generally optional unless they're used to clarify or emphasize; they are included here so that you know who the subject of the sentence is.

**People's names are considered third person, and put into the same category as él, ella, usted when determining the correct form of the verb.

***Tú y yo takes the nosotros form: it's like saying "You and I," which takes the same form as "we."

Answers to Exercise C

  1. Tengo ___ años.
  2. Tengo que tomar una prueba.
  3. sí / no (depending on if you really have a headache or not)
  4. sed
  5. razón
  6. sí / no (depending on if you have to study)
  7. tiene

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Cynthia Calhoun


Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on June 07, 2014:

Missolive - ohmigosh!!

Marisa Hammond Olivares from Texas on June 04, 2014:

Yo SIEMPRE tengo hambre!! jajaja

AWESOME hub! Your drawings and examples are truly amazing. You really did a fantastic job. BRAVO!!!

Definitely, TENGO que compartir este hub por ruedes sociales :) definitivamente!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 15, 2014:

DzyMsLizzy - yes - it's fun learning the cognates and the false cognates. One of my favorites? "Embarazada" is not "embarrassed" but "pregnant" - hahaha.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on May 14, 2014:

LOL--yes..there are quite a few cognates in all three languages, and some even in English where we've borrowed foreign words.