Spanish Phrases and Idioms Using 'Tener'

Verb Often Signifies Concepts Other than 'To Have'

Buenos Aires view
Ten por seguro que vamos a Buenos Aires. (Rest assured we are going to Buenos Aires.). Photo by Juanedc.com; licensed via Creative Commons.

If there were a Top 10 list somewhere for Spanish verbs made versatile through idioms, tener would probably 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.

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

Phrase: tener ... años
Meaning: to be ... years old
Example: Tengo 33 años. I'm 33 years old.

Phrase: tener ... de ancho/largo/altura
Meaning: to be .... wide/long/tall
Example: Tiene 23 centímetros de ancho. It is 23 centimeters wide.

Phrase: tener a bien (hacer algo)
Meaning: to see fit (to do something)
Example: Mi esposa tiene a bien comprar un coche. My wife sees fit to buy a car.

Phrase: tener a (alguién) por ...
Meaning: to consider (someone) to be
Example: Tengo a Roberto por tonto.

I consider (or take) Roberto to be foolish.

Phrase: tener por seguro
Meaning: to rest assured
Example: Ten por seguro que vamos a Buenos Aires. Rest assured we are going to Buenos Aires.

Phrase: tener sobre (algo)
Meaning: to lean on (something)
Example: El paraguas tenía sobre el coche. The umbrella was leaning on the car.

Phrase: tener un(a) niño/niña/hijo/hija/bebé
Meaning: to have a baby
Example: Tuvo una hija. She had a baby girl.

Phrase: no tener nombre
Meaning: to be totally unacceptable
Example: Lo que dijiste de mis hijas no tiene nombre. What you said about my daughters is totally unacceptable.

Phrase: tener lugar
Meaning: to take place
Example: Tiene lugar la fiesta en mi casa. The party will take place in my home.

Phrase: tener en cuenta
Meaning: to bear in mind
Example: No tenía en cuenta la opinión de sus hijos. He didn't keep in mind the opinion of his children.

Phrase: tener para (sí)
Meaning: to think
Phrase: Tengo para mí que ganarán. I think they'll win.

Phrase: no tenerlas todo con(sigo)
Meaning: to not have it all together, to have the jitters
Example: Tengo que hablar, pero no las tengo todas conmigo. I have to talk, but I'm jittery about it.

Phrase: estar que no tenerse
Meaning: to be tired out
Example: Estoy que no me tengo. I'm all tired out.

Phrase: no tener nada que ver con (algo o alguien)
Meaning: to not have anything to do with (something or someone)
Example: Yo no tenía nada que ver con la decisión. I didn't have anything to do with the decision.

Phrase: tenerse en pie
Meaning: to stand
Example: Me tuve en pie para ver.

I stood up to see.

Phrase: tenerse firme
Meaning: to stand upright or firm
Example: Se tuvo firme a sus enemigos. He stood up firm to his enemies.

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