Uses of the Italian Verb Avere

To Feel Like, to Be Cold, Hungry, Scared, Right and Wrong: All in Avere

Arch of Constantine with the Colosseum in the background at sunrise, Rome, Lazio, Italy
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Besides being a foundational verb in its own right, the Italian verb avere, or "to have" in English, has a particularly important role in Italian as an auxiliary verb. This second-conjugation irregular verb facilitates—together with partner essere—all compound tenses of all modes of all verbs: avere for many transitive and intransitive verbs, and essere for reflexive verbs, verbs of movement, and many other intransitive verbs as well.

You would not be able to say that you ate a sandwich (ho mangiato un panino), you slept well (ho dormito bene!), you loved your dog (ho voluto molto bene al mio cane), or that you had hoped to learn Italian (avevo sperato di imparare l'italiano!) without the verb avere (together, of course, with past participles).

Here, though, we want to tell you about the other special ways in which the verb avere is fundamental to the expression of living in Italian.

Expressing a Feeling

Avere is used to express a series of important feelings, many of which are rendered in English with the verb "to be" or "to feel" and that are used very frequently.

At the top of the list is the expression of a desire to do something: avere voglia di, or non avere voglia di. For example: Ho voglia di mangiare una pizza (I feel like eating a pizza); non abbiamo voglia di andare al cinema (we don't feel like going to the movies); mia figlia non ha voglia di andare a scuola (my daughter doesn't feel like going to school). Avere voglia is subtly different from wanting or volere: a bit less resolved, more temporary and a bit capricious.

You also use avere to express your age: Ho dodici anni (I am 12 years old), or mia nonna ha cento anni (my grandmother is 100).

Here are the other most important ones:

Avere freddo to be cold Fuori ho freddo.  Outside I am cold. 
Avere caldo  to be hot  Dentro ho caldo.  Inside I am hot. 
Avere sete to be thirsty Ho sete!  I am thirsty!
Avere fame to be hungry Abbiamo fame!  We are hungry!
Avere paura di to be afraid Ho paura del buio.  I am afraid of the dark. 
Avere sonno to be sleepy I bambini hanno sonno.  The children are sleepy. 
Avere fretta  to be in a hurry Ho fretta: devo andare. I am in a hurry: I need to go. 
Avere bisogno di to be in need of  Ho bisogno di un dottore. I need a doctor. 
Avere torto  to be wrong Hai torto.  You are wrong. 
Avere ragione to be right Ho sempre ragione.  I am always right. 
Avere piacere di  to be pleased Ho piacere di vederti. I am pleased to see you.

Italian Idioms

Besides expressions of feeling, avere is used in a long list of idiomatic expressions, called locuzioni in Italian. Our trusty Italian dizionari are full of them. Here we do not cite the many that use avere literally and are similar to English ("to have in mind" or "to have a screw loose"), but this is a good sampling of the most interesting and frequently used:

avere del matto (del buono, del cattivo) to seem a bit crazy (or good, or bad)
avere l'aria di to seem (give off the air of)
avere la borsa piena to be rich (have a full purse)
avere caro to hold (something) dear
avere su (addosso) to have on (wear)
avere (or non avere) a che vedere to have something to do with 
avere nulla da spartire  to have nothing in common with somebody
avere a che dire  to have something to say
avere (or non avere) a che fare con to have something to do with something or somebody
avere a mente  to remember
avere a cuore  to hold dear
avere importanza  to be important
avere luogo to take place
avere inizio to begin
avere presente to picture something clearly in one's mind
avere (qualcuno) sulla bocca  to talk about someone often
avere per la testa  to have something in one's head 
avere da fare  to be busy
avere le madonne  to be in a bad mood 
avere l'acquolina in bocca  to salivate/to have a watering mouth
avere la meglio/la peggio to best/to lose
avere occhio to watch out/to have a good eye
avere le scatole piene  to be fed up
avere (qualcuno) sullo stomaco to dislike someone 
avere il diavolo addosso to be fidgety
avere (qualcosa) per le mani to be dealing with something 
avere cura di to take care of someone or something
averla a male  to be offended
avere in odio  to hate
avere un diavolo per capello  to be furious (to have a devil for each hair)

Non Ci Ho Voglia!

Avere is sometimes expressed in speaking as averci: You will hear people say, ci ho fame, or ci ho sonno, or ci ho voglia (spoken as if the ci and ho were connected through a soft h, like the English sound ch, though they are not, and in fact we know that ch is a hard sound like k). The ci is a pronominal particle on top of the already present noun. It is technically not correct but frequently said (though definitely not written).

Regional Uses: Tenere as Avere

A note about tenere in relation to avere: In Southern Italy tenere is often used in the place of avere. You hear people say, tengo due figli (I have two children) and even tengo fame (I am hungry), or tengo trent'anni (I am 30 years old). This is a widespread but regional use of the verb. The verb tenere means to hold, keep, maintain, hold onto.