How to Effectively Use the Spanish Verb 'Tener' in Daily Conversations

May 12th, 2023 - Vera

Spanish, one of the world’s most widely spoken languages, is known for its rich vocabulary and complex grammar. One of the most commonly used verbs in this beautiful language is ‘Tener’. This verb, which translates to ‘to have’ in English, is used in various contexts and expressions, making it a crucial part of daily conversations. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to effectively use ‘Tener’ in your Spanish dialogues.

The Basics of ‘Tener’

The verb ‘Tener’ is an irregular verb, which means its conjugation doesn’t follow the regular conjugation patterns. Let’s start by learning its present tense conjugation:

As you can see, the root of the verb changes in the first person singular (Yo) and all third person forms (Él, Ella, Usted, Ellos, Ellas, Ustedes), which is a typical characteristic of irregular verbs in Spanish.

Uses of ‘Tener’

‘Tener’ is used to denote possession, similarly to ‘have’ in English. For example:

Besides possession, ‘Tener’ is frequently used in Spanish to express feelings, age, and necessity, among other things, which is quite different from English usage.

Expressing Feelings with ‘Tener’

In Spanish, ‘Tener’ is commonly used to talk about physical sensations and personal feelings. Here are some examples:

Note that in each of these cases, the noun that follows ‘Tener’ agrees with the subject in number and gender.

Expressing Age with ‘Tener’

In English, we use the verb ‘to be’ to express age, as in ‘I am 25 years old.’ However, in Spanish, age is expressed using ‘Tener’:

Expressing Necessity with ‘Tener’

‘Tener’ is also used to express obligation or necessity in Spanish, similar to the English expression ‘to have to’. The phrase ‘Tener que’ followed by an infinitive verb is used to express this:

Tener in the Past Tense

Understanding ‘Tener’ in the past tense is vital for effective communication. The preterite form of ‘Tener’ is irregular:

For example:

The imperfect form of ‘Tener’, which is used to express ongoing or incomplete actions in the past, is also irregular:

For example:

Tener in the Future Tense

The future tense of ‘Tener’ is regular, which means it follows the standard future tense conjugation pattern:

For example:

Common Phrases and Expressions with ‘Tener’

‘Tener’ is used in numerous idiomatic expressions in Spanish, which are essential for achieving fluency. Here are a few examples:

Avoiding Common Mistakes

A common mistake among Spanish learners is using ‘Tener’ where ‘Ser’ or ‘Estar’ should be used, or vice versa. Remember, ‘Tener’ is generally used for possession, expressing feelings or sensations, age, and necessity. ‘Ser’ is used for inherent characteristics, and ‘Estar’ is used for temporary states or locations. For example, you would use ‘Ser’ to say someone is intelligent (because it’s a permanent characteristic) and ‘Estar’ to say someone is tired (because it’s a temporary state). ‘Tener’ would be used to say someone is hungry (because it’s a sensation).


The verb ‘Tener’ is a cornerstone of Spanish language proficiency. With its various uses in expressing possession, feelings, age, necessity, and its role in numerous idiomatic expressions, understanding ‘Tener’ can significantly enhance your Spanish communication skills. The irregularities in its conjugation can be challenging, but with consistent practice, they can be easily mastered.

Learning Spanish is an enriching experience that opens up a new world of culture, travel, and career opportunities. Mastering key verbs like ‘Tener’ is a significant step towards achieving fluency. With this comprehensive guide, you are well on your way to using ‘Tener’ effectively in your daily conversations. ¡Buena suerte en tu viaje de aprendizaje del español! (Good luck on your Spanish learning journey!)

Achieve fluency with ListLang—it's free!

ListLang Logo
Start learning in under a minute.
Download ListLang iPhone AppDownload ListLang Android App