Spanish Expressions with ‘Tener’


May 6, 2020

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Expressions with ‘tener’ TW

One of the most common verbs in the Spanish language is tener. It means ‘to have,’ and is one of the most useful verbs!

In this article, we’ll be looking at some expressions in the Spanish language that involve the word tener!

Conjugation of tener

There’s not enough room here to conjugate tener in every verb tense, but here’s the present tense conjugation to get you started.


Phrases where tener is used as ‘to be’

There are lots of phrases in Spanish that use the verb tener, where in English we’d use the verb ‘to be.’ So if you want to say, for example, ‘I am 30 years old,’ make sure you say, ‘Tengo 30 años.’ You won’t make much sense if you say, ‘Soy 30 años.’ 

For my fellow grammar fans: Note that the Spanish phrases use ‘to have’ + a noun, whereas the English ones use ‘to be’ + an adjective.

  • Tener X años

Literal meaning: To have X years
Meaning: To be X years old

Carlota, ¿cuántos años tienes?
—Tengo 18 años. ¿Y tú?

Carlota, how old are you?
I’m 18 years old. And you?
  • Tener calor

Literal meaning: To have heat
Meaning: To be (feeling) hot

Espero que haya aire acondicionado en el hotel. Tengo mucho calor.I hope there’s air conditioning in the hotel. I’m very hot.
  • Tener frío

Literal meaning: To have cold
Meaning: To be (feeling) cold

Si tienes frío, ponte el abrigo.If you’re cold, put your coat on.
  • Tener hambre

Literal meaning: To have hunger
Meaning: To be hungry

Suelo tener hambre cuando me despierto.I’m always hungry when I wake up.
  • Tener sed

Literal meaning: To have thirst
Meaning: To be thirsty

¿Me pones un vaso de agua? Tengo sed.Could you get me a glass of water? I’m thirsty.
  • Tener sueño

Literal meaning: To have sleep
Meaning: To be sleepy

Mamá, tengo sueño pero no me quiero acostar.Mommy, I’m sleepy but I don’t want to go to bed.
  • Tener prisa

Literal meaning: To have haste
Meaning: To be in a hurry

Que no me hable nadie, tengo prisa.Nobody speak to me, I’m in a hurry.
  • Tener miedo

Literal meaning: To have fear
Meaning: To be scared

Tenemos miedo de que la policía se entere de lo que hemos hecho.We’re scared that the police will find out what we’ve done.
  • Tener éxito

Literal meaning: To have success
Meaning:  To be successful/to have success

Tener éxito no es tener dinero; es estar feliz.To be successful isn’t to have money; it’s to be happy.
  • Tener suerte

Literal meaning: To have luck
Meaning: To be lucky/to have luck

Marcus siempre ha tenido suerte. ¡Ayer ganó la lotería!Marcus has always been lucky. Last night he won the lottery!
  • Tener celos/tener envidia

Literal meaning: To have jealousy/to have envy
Meaning: To be jealous/to be envious

La razón por la que no le gusto a Nadia es que ella tiene celos.The reason that Nadia doesn’t like me is that she’s jealous.
  • Tener cuidado

Literal meaning: To have care
Meaning: To be careful

En este barrio, hay que tener cuidado al andar por la noche.In this neighborhood, you have to be careful when walking at night.
  • Tener vergüenza

Literal meaning: To have shame
Meaning: To be ashamed

Kurt sedujo a Doris, la examinadora, para aprobar el examen de conducir. Ahora tiene mucha vergüenza. Kurt seduced Doris, the examiner, to pass the driving test. Now he feels very ashamed.
  • Tener (la) razón

Literal meaning: To have reason
Meaning: To be right

El cliente siempre tiene la razón.The customer is always right.
  • Tener la culpa

Literal meaning: To have the blame
Meaning: To be at fault

Fuiste tú que me engañaste a mí. Así que ni te atreves a decir que yo tenga la culpa.It was you who cheated on me. So don’t you dare say that this is my fault.

Idiomatic phrases

Lots of idioms and sayings use the word tener. A lot of the time, the direct translation isn’t going to make that much sense, so prepare to have a chuckle at these…

  • Tener malas pulgas

Literal meaning: To have bad fleas
Meaning: To have a bad temper

No le gusta la nueva profesora a nadie porque tiene muy malas pulgas.Nobody likes the new teacher because she has a very bad temper.
  • No tener (ni) un pelo de tonto

Literal meaning: To not have (even) a hair of foolishness
Meaning: To be nobody’s fool

Pedro intentó mentirle a Isabel, pero ella no tiene ni un pelo de tonto.Pedro tried to lie to Isabel, but she is nobody’s fool.
  • Tener los nervios de punta

Literal meaning: To have the nerves rigid
Meaning: To be on edge

Hoy Doris me dará el resultado del examen. Tengo los nervios de punta.Today Doris will give me the exam result. I’m on edge.
  • Tener (algo) en la punta de la lengua

Literal meaning: To have (something) on the tip of the tongue
Meaning: To have (something) on the tip of one’s tongue

¿Cómo se llamaba ese profesor que nos gustó?
—¡Ay, no lo sé! Tengo su nombre en la punta de la lengua.
What was the name of that teacher we liked?
Ooh, I don’t know! His name is on the tip of my tongue.
  • Tener madera para

Literal meaning: To have wood for
Meaning: To have what it takes for/to be born to

Para su edad, Ignacio nada increíblemente bien. Yo creo que tiene madera para nadar competitivamente.For his age, Ignacio swims incredibly well. I think he has what it takes to swim competitively.
  • Tener mala cara

Literal meaning: To have bad face
Meaning: To look bad/ill

Abuela, ¿estás bien? Tienes mala cara.
—Me encuentro un poco mareada pero estoy bien.
Grandma, are you okay? You don’t look so good.
I’m feeling a little faint but I’m okay.
  • No tener nombre

Literal meaning: To not have a name
Meaning: To be unspeakable/terrible

¡Lo que Julio le hizo a Roberto no tiene nombre!What Julio did to Roberto is unspeakable!
  • No tener donde caerse muerto

Literal meaning: To not have a place to fall dead
Meaning: To be penniless/To not have a penny to one’s name

Hace muchos años, yo era jefa de una compañía exitosa, pero ahora no tengo donde caerme muerta.Many years ago, I was the boss of a successful company, but now I don’t have a penny to my name.

Short but useful phrases

The following ‘tener’-isms aren’t as wordy as the ones above, but they are super useful, and pretty common!

  • Tener lugar

Literal meaning: To have place
Meaning: To take place

La fiesta tendrá lugar en marzo.The party will take place in March.
  • Tener que

Literal meaning: To have that
Meaning: To have to

Tienes que hacer tus deberes.You have to do your homework.
  • Tener ganas de

Literal meaning: To have wishes of
Meaning: To feel like

Tengo ganas de ir al parque. ¿Te apuntas?I feel like going to the park. Are you up for coming?
  • Tener en cuenta

Literal meaning: To have in account
Meaning: To keep in mind/To take into account

Ten en cuenta que esto es su primer trabajo.
Bear in mind that this is her first job.
  • Tener que ver con

Literal meaning: To have that to see with
Meaning: To have to do with

La discusión tenía que ver con la política.The argument had something to do with politics.
  • Tener pensado

Literal meaning: To have thought
Meaning: To have in mind as a plan

Tengo pensado ir al cine hoy.I plan to go to the cinema today.
  • Tener claro

Literal meaning: To have clear
Meaning: To be clear on/to be sure

No tengo claro lo de la trigonometría.I’m not clear on the trigonometry stuff.


Let’s see if you remember some of these neat little phrases. Simply fill in the blanks!

1. ¿Podemos comer ya? Es que tengo _. (Can we eat now? Because I’m hungry.)

Click to reveal the correct answer:

Answer: hambre

2. Deseo que tengas _ al fin y al cabo. (I hope you are successful in the end.)

Click to reveal the correct answer:

Answer: éxito

3. Tengo _. Siempre. (I’m right. Always.)

Click to reveal the correct answer:

Answer: (la) razón

4. Desde que me robaron, suelo _. (Since I got mugged, I’m always on edge.)

Click to reveal the correct answer:

Answer: tener los nervios de punta

5. Si malgastas todo tu dinero en drogas, terminarás no teniendo _. (If you waste all your money on drugs, you’ll end up penniless.)

Click to reveal the correct answer:

Answer: donde caerte muerto/a.

6. No puedo salir porque tengo _ limpiar la casa. (I can’t go out because I have to clean the house.)

Click to reveal the correct answer:

Answer: que

7. Has estado muy callado. ¿Tiene _ los resultados de las pruebas del hospital? (You’ve been very quiet. Does it have to do with the test results from the hospital?)

Click to reveal the correct answer:

Answer: que ver con

8. Tengo _ lo que tengo _ hacer. (I know exactly what I have to do.)

Click to reveal the correct answer:

Answer: claro; que

So there you ~have~ it!

Hopefully these phrases have given you a variety of new ways to use tener, one of the most important Spanish verbs! ¡Hasta la próxima!

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