Spanish Phrases and Idioms Using 'Tener'

Verb often used for concepts other than 'to have'

Buenos Aires view
Ten por seguro que vamos a Buenos Aires. (Rest assured we are going to Buenos Aires.). / Creative Commons

If there were a Top 10 list for Spanish verbs made versatile through idioms, tener would certainly be in that list. A wealth of phrases using tener are often used to indicate emotions or states of being, and in many of those tener can be translated as "to be" rather than the more literal "to have."

There are also numerous other idioms using tener. (As used here, an idiom is a phrase that has a meaning more or less independent of the words in the phrase).

You'll run across them all the time in writing and conversation.

Perhaps the most common is the phrase tener que (usually in a conjugated form) followed by an infinitive and meaning "to have to": Tengo que salir. (I have to leave.) Tendrás que comer. (You will have to eat.)

Keep in mind that tener is highly irregular in its conjugation.

List of Tener Phrases

Following are some of the other common idiomatic phrases using tener. Words in brackets indicate that less generic words should be substituted:

tener ... años (to be ... years old) — Tengo 33 años. (I'm 33 years old.)

tener claro que (to clearly understand or realize that)  — Amelia tiene claro que irá a prisión. (Amelia clearly understands she will be going to prison.)

tener cuidado (to be careful) — Ten cuidado con lo que deseas. (Be careful with what you wish for.)

tener ... de ancho/largo/altura (to be .... wide/long/tall) — Tiene 23 centímetros de ancho.

(It is 23 centimeters wide.)

tener a bien [hacer algo] (to see fit [to do something]) — Mi esposa tiene a bien comprar un coche. (My wife sees fit to buy a car.)

tener a [alguién] por ... (to consider or take [someone] to be) — Tengo a Roberto por tonto. I consider (or take) Roberto to be a fool.

tener ganas de [algo] (to want to have [something], to feel like having [something]) — Es importante que tengas ganas de trabajar y aprender.

(It's important that you want to work and learn.)

tener por seguro (to rest or be assured, to take as a certainty) — Ten por seguro que vamos a Buenos Aires. (Rest assured that we are going to Buenos Aires.)

tener prisa (to be in a rush or hurry) — Laura tenía prisa por salir el país. (Laura was in a hurry to leave the country.)

tener que ver con (to have a connection, to have something to with) — No teníamos que ver con el incidente. (We had nothing to do with the incident.)

tener razón (to be right or correct) — En América el cliente siempre tiene razón. (In America, the customer is always right.)

tener sentido (to make sense) — Esa proposición no tiene sentido. (That proposal doesn't make sense.)

tener sobre [algo] (to lean on [something]) — El paraguas tenía sobre el coche. (The umbrella was leaning on the car.)

tener un/una bebé/niño/niña/hijo/hija (to have a baby boy/girl/son/daughter) — Tuvo una hija. (She had a baby girl.)

no tener nombre (to be totally unacceptable) — Lo que dijiste de mis hijas no tiene nombre. (What you said about my daughters is totally unacceptable. This is similar to the English slang phrase "There are no words for.")

tener lugar (to take place) — Tiene lugar la fiesta en mi casa.

(The party will take place in my home.)

tener en cuenta (to bear or keep in mind) — No tenía en cuenta la opinión de sus hijos. (He didn't keep in mind the opinion of his children.)

tener previsto (to expect, to plan) — Adán tiene previsto abandonar el equipo a final de temporada. (Adán is planning to leave the team at the end of the season.)

tener suerte (to be lucky) — Carla tiene suerte de esta viva después de que fue envenenada. (Carla is lucky to be alive after she was poisoned.)

estar que no tenerse (to be tired out) — Estoy que no me tengo. (I'm all tired out.)

tenerse en pie (to stand) — Me tuve en pie para ver. (I stood up to see.)

tenerse firme (to stand upright or firm, literally or figuratively) — Se tuvo firme a sus enemigos. ()He stood up firm to his enemies.)

Key Takeaways

  • Although tener often means "to have," it is used in a wide variety of phrases that are best translated other ways.
  • Tener has a highly irregular conjugation.
  • Many of the tener idioms refer to emotions or states of being.