All About the French Verb Tenir

Mother holding her baby's hand
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Tenir is an irregular verb ending in -ir and usually means "to hold" or "to keep." Tenir has a number of other meanings, including some which depend on the preposition that follows. It's used in a number of French expressions.

Meanings of Tenir

Tenir usually means "to hold" or "to keep":

  • Qu'est-ce qu'il tient à la main? Translation: What is he holding in his hand?
  • Je dois tenir les enfants par la main. Translation: I need to hold the kids' hands.
  • Tenez les yeux fermés. Translation: Keep your eyes closed.
  • Il faut tenir cette affiche en place. Translation: You need to hold this poster in place.

Additional Meanings

To have/keep under control:

  • Vous tenez bien votre classe.
  • Translation: You have your class under control.

To run/manage (a business):

  • Qui tient le magasin?
  • Translation: Who's running the store?

To organize (an event):

  • Le comité tient une séance chaque mois.
  • Translation: The committee holds a meeting every month.

To handle, be able to accept:

  • Elle ne tient pas l'alcool. (informal)
  • Translation: She can't hold her liquor.

To keep:

  • Je tiens toujours mes promesses.
  • I always keep my promises.

To take up, fulfill:

  • Cette table tient trop de place.
  • Translation: This table takes up too much room

Tenir à

Tenir à may be followed by a noun, an infinitive, or a clause. When followed by a noun, it means either "to value, care about, be attached to" or "to be due to, stem from":

  • Je ne tiens pas à son opinion. Translation: I don't care about his opinion.
  • À quoi tient son succès? Translation: What is the secret of his success?

When followed by an infinitive or ce que + subjunctive, tenir à means "to be anxious/eager:"

  • Je tiens à vous remercier. Translation: I'm eager to thank you.
  • Il tient à ce que tu sois à l'aise. Translation: He's anxious for you to feel comfortable.

Tenir can also be used to mean "to depend on" - most commonly with ne___ qu'à:

  • Cela ne tient qu'à toi de choisir. Translation: It's up to you to choose. The choice depends (only) on you.
  • Cela ne tient pas qu'à moi. Translation: It doesn't depend on me alone.

Tenir de

Tenir de means "to take after/resemble, to have to do with":

  • Elle tient de sa mère. Translation: She takes after her mother.
  • Cela tient du miracle. Translation: That seems like a miracle, There's something miraculous about that.

Se Tenir

Reflexively, tenir means "to hold (oneself)," "to be in a position," or "to behave":

  • Pourquoi se tient-il la jambe? Translation: Why is he holding his leg?
  • Je me tenais par une main. Translation: I held myself (up) with one hand.
  • Tu dois te tenir debout. Translation: You have to stand up.
  • Nous nous tenons prêts à partir. Translation: We're prepared to leave.
  • Elle se tient bien. Translation: She's well-behaved.
  • Tiens-toi tranquille! Translation: Behave yourself! Be quiet!

Se tenir can also be used intransitively with many of the meanings in the first section (to hold a meeting, to be connected, etc)

Present Tense Conjugations

  • je tiens
  • tu tiens
  • il tient
  • nous tenons
  • vous tenez
  • ils tiennent
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Team, ThoughtCo. "All About the French Verb Tenir." ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, Team, ThoughtCo. (2021, December 6). All About the French Verb Tenir. Retrieved from Team, ThoughtCo. "All About the French Verb Tenir." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2023).