Maestro Spanish

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Most Useful Spanish Verbs: Tener

There is an unfortunate situation with Spanish verbs that discourages beginners: the most commonly used verbs are also the most irregular and difficult to learn. However, if you push through, and use Maestro Spanish regularly, you will be blitzing through them in no time!

In addition to the conjugations, you need to learn how to use these verbs in context. Today we will talk about one of these verbs that you will literally use all the time: tener.

Tener shows up in many useful Spanish expressions. They are only difficult because they contrast with how you would say things in English, so there's no real shortcut besides familiarizing yourself with them so that you can have them in your arsenal.

We're going to break these down into seven categories for easier digestion.


We won't spend much time on this one, as its the easiest use of tener that everyone learns initially. Tener literally means to have, so it can be used to indicate posession of something:

Tengo la bolsa. → "I have the bag."

¿Tienes las direciones? → "Do you have the directions?"


Another one learned almost immediately after is that tener is used to indicate age:

¿Él tiene veinte y dos años? → "Is he 22 years old?"

Something you must do

Tener que + infinitive is used to indicate something that you must do.

Juan tuvo que ir a la tienda. → "Juan had to go to the store."

This can be confused sometimes, because necesitar means "to need", and often in English we say things like, "I need to go to the store". Beginners may translate this as Necesito ir a la tienda, which sounds weird. It should be "Tengo que ir", as in the above example.

The shortcut to remembering is this: use necesitar when you need an actual object, use tener que when you need to do an action. This example always straightens it out in my head:

Necesito un baño. → "I need a bathroom."

Tengo que ir al baño. → "I need to go to the bathroom."

They essentially mean the same thing, but based on how we construct them, we choose different verbs. Not as tricky as saying support in Spanish, but something to keep an eye out for.

In the mood for

In addition to things you must do, tener is used for things you feel like doing, or have the desire to do. The construction for this is

Tener ganas de + infinitive / object

Tenemos ganas de bailar. → "We feel like dancing."

Tengo ganas de una cerveca. → "I feel like having a beer."

Physical state

Tener can be used to describe your physical state, such as cold, hot, or hungry. These are only tricky because in English you would say "I am hot", where as in Spanish, it would be literally translated as "I have hot", or "Tengo calor" (Tener is conjugated normally).

Below is a table with the most common nouns that describe physical state:

English noun Spanish translation
cold frío
hot calor
hungry hambre
thirsty sed
sleepy sueño

Keep in mind that these are nouns, not adjectives, so you would not change frío to fría, if, for example, you identify as a female.

Psychological state

I don't really have a good word to describe these, except perhaps "psychological". They are words associated with mood or feelings.

English Spanish translation
to be in a hurry tener prisa
to be afraid of tener miedo de
to be jealous tener celos
to be confident tener confianza
to be careful tener cuidado
to be ashamed tener vergüenza

Conjugations work just like normal, so these can be commands, such as ¡Ten cuidado!

Other states

These don't fit neatly into the other "states", but are just as common:

English Spanish translation
to be right tener razón
to be successful tener éxito
to be guilty tener la culpa
to be lucky tener suerte


This list isn't comprehensive, but I would say it is about 95% of the uses of tener that you will come across and need.

¡Ten cuidado, y buena suerte!