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