All About Tenir

Mother holding her baby hand
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Tenir is an irregular -IR verb 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 ?
   What is he holding in his hand?

   Je dois tenir les enfants par la main
   I need to hold the kids' hands

   Tenez les yeux fermés
   Keep your eyes closed

   Il faut tenir cette affiche en place
   You need to hold this poster in place

Additional meanings

To have/keep under control
   Vous tenez bien votre classe
   You have your class under control

To run/manage (a business)
   Qui tient le magasin ?


   Who's running the store?

To organize (an event)
   Le comité tient une séance chaque mois
   The committee holds a meeting every month

To handle, be able to accept
   Elle ne tient pas l'alcool (informal)
   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
   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
   I don't care about his opinion

   À quoi tient son succès ?
   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
   I'm eager to thank you

   Il tient à ce que tu sois à l'aise
   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
   It's up to you to choose, The choice depends (only) on you

   Cela ne tient pas qu'à moi
   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
   She takes after her mother

   Cela tient du miracle
   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 ?


   Why is he holding his leg?

   Je me tenais par une main
   I held myself (up) with one hand

   Tu dois te tenir debout
   You have to stand up

   Nous nous tenons prêts à partir
   We're prepared to leave

   Elle se tient bien
   She's well-behaved

   Tiens-toi tranquille !
   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