Ages in Spanish

'Tener años' is common idiom

birthday cake in Spanish
Hoy tiene 87 años. (Today she is 87 years old.). Emilio García/Creative Commons.

In Spanish, stating a person's age is done by indicating how many years a person has rather than stating how old that person is.

Using Tener for Ages

The Spanish idiom for expressing a person's age is "tener ___ años." Tener is the verb for "to have," and un año is a year.

  • Tengo catorce años. (I am 14 years old.)
  • Mi madre tiene cincuenta años. (My mother is 50 years old.)
  • Yo tenía 31 años, casado y padre de un hijo. (I was 31 years old, married and the father of a son.)
  • Para el año 2025, uno de cada tres habitantes de la isla tendrá 65 años o más. (In the year 2025, one out of three inhabitants of the island will be 65 or older.)
  • ¿Cuántos años tienes? (How old are you?)

To ask a person's age, you also could ask: ¿Qué edad tienes? (Edad is the word for "age.")

In contrast with English, in Spanish you normally cannot leave out años, unless the word has been used previously and the context makes clear what is meant. An example of where the word could be omitted would be a sentence such as this: Tengo veinte años, y mi hermano tiene quince. (I am 20 years old, and my brother is 15.)

The equivalent of the phrase "at ____ years of age" is "a la edad de ___ años" or "a los ___ años de edad." The words "de edad" are frequently omitted, perhaps more often than not. Thus a statement such as "at the age of 30 she was rich and famous" could be translated any of these ways:

  • A los treinta años era rica y famosa. (This would be the most likely to be said.)
  • A la edad de treinta años era rica y famosa.
  • A los treinta años de edad era rica y famosa.

Variations on Using Ages

Although años is the most common unit of time with ages, others can also be used. Also, the same rules are applied to the ages of animals and things as with people.

  • Mi bebé tiene tres meses. (My baby is three months old.)
  • Se dice que Matusalén tenía má 900 años. (It is said that Methusela was more than 900 years old.)
  • Esta casa tiene tres siglos. (This house is three centuries old.)
  • Mi perrito tiene 15 días. (My puppy is 15 days old.)

Past Tenses and Ages

When speaking about ages in the past, the imperfect tense normally is used. Use of the preterite suggests the time when someone turned a certain age. See how the verb choice affects the meaning of these sentences:

  • El atleta tomó esteroides cuando tenía 18 años. (The athlete took steroids when he was 18 years old. Tenía is in the imperfect tense.)
  • Cuando el estudiante tuvo 18 años, una psiquiatra le diagnosticó con esquizofrenia. (When the student turned 18, a psychiatrist diagnosed him with schizophrenia. Tuvo is in the preterite tense.)

Phrases Referring to Age

Phrases shown in boldface are frequently used in referring to those of various ages:

  • Investigan la muerte de una anciana por negligencia en un hospital. (They are investigating the death of an old woman because of negligence in a hospital.)
  • Los alimentos contaminados son una amenaza para los niños de corta edad. (Contaminated foods are a danger for young children.)
  • A muchas personas de edad avanzada les disminuye el apetito. (Many older people have a reduced appetite.)
  • En Gran Bretaña la presión para descender la edad de consentimiento tiene mucha fuerza. (In Great Britain the pressure to reduce the age of consent is very strong.)
  • La edad del pavo se convierte en la etapa en que los padres son considerados por sus hijos como los más insoportables e incomprensibles. (The awkward age becomes the stage at which parents are considered by their children to be the most unbearable and difficult to understand. Edad del pavo, literally the age of a turkey, is generally considered to be the preadolescent years, approximately from 11 to 13.)
  • Estudios habían mostrado que una persona se sentía de mediana edad cuando tenía alrededor de 36 años. (Studies have shown that a person feels middle-aged at around 36 years old.)
  • Uno de los asaltantes es menor de edad. (One of the assailants is a minor.)
  • Los ejercicios de natación son excelentes para la tercera edad. (Swimming excercises are excellent for senior citizens.)

Key Takeaways

  • The most common way of stating someone's age in Spanish is using a form of the phrase "tener _____ años." For example, to say "Laura is 26 years old," say "Laura tiene 26 años.
  • In general, you shouldn't omit años, the word for "year."
  • Other units of time, such as meses for months or días, can be used instead of años when the context demands.