One thing that can be a bit of a curve ball for the beginning Spanish learner is that certain expressions use the verb tener (to have), in places where English would use the verb “to be”. For example, to say things like “I am 25 years old” or “I am hungry”, in Spanish you actually say “I have 25 years” and “I have hunger¨.
Yo tengo 25 años. = I am 25 years old.
Yo tengo hambre. = I am hungry.
Unlike the ser vs. estar question (for more on that see our blog on this topic), we’re just talking about a finite list of idiomatic expressions. All you need to do is memorize your list of expressions with tener and you’ll be good to go.
The other piece of good news is, you don’t need to modify the “descriptor” to match the gender/number of the subject as you do with ser and estar + an adjective. For example, when you say soy alto/alta (I am tall) the adjective (in this case alto or alta) needs to agree with the subject; alto for masculine, alta for feminine, altos for masculine plural and altas for feminine plural. When you say “Yo tengo hambre”, as we mentioned, you are technically saying “I have hunger.” In this case “hunger” is a noun so you don’t have to make any changes to fit the subject as you would with adjectives. Here’s how it looks:
yo tengo hambre nosotros/nosotras temenos hambre
tú tienes hambre vosotros tenéis hambre
usted tiene hambre ustedes tienen hambre
él/ella tiene hambre ellos/ellas tienen hambre
In other words, once you’ve got your conjugation of tener down and have familiarized yourself with these expressions, your good to go!
LIST OF EXPRESSIONS THAT USE TENER
Here’s your list with an example for each. Although pronouns are not generally spoken in Spanish, we are adding them here for clarity:
TENER CALOR: to be hot
Yo tengo calor. I’m hot.
TENER FRÍO: to be cold
Tú tienes frío. You are cold.
TENER HAMBRE: to be hungry
Usted tiene hambre. You are hungry.
TENER SED: to be thirsty
Él tiene sed. He is thirsty.
TENER SUEÑO: to be sleepy
Ella tiene sueño. She is sleepy.
TENER MIEDO: to be frightened
Nosotros temenos miedo. We are frightened.
TENER _ AÑOS: to be _ years old
Nosotras tenemos 15 años. We are 15 years old.
TENER PRISA: to be in a hurry
Vosotros tenéis prisa. You are in a hurry.
TENER RAZÓN: to be right
Ustedes tienen razón. You are correct/right.
NO TENER RAZÓN: to be wrong
Ellos no tienen razón. They are wrong/not correct.
TENER ORGULLO: to be proud
Ellas tienen orgullo. They are proud.
TENER SUERTE: to be lucky
Yo tengo suerte. I am lucky.
TENER CELOS: to be jealous
Tú tienes celos. You are jealous.
TENER CONFIANZA: to be confident
Usted tiene confianza. You are confident.
TENER CUIDADO: to be careful
Él tiene cuidado. He is careful.
TENER VERGÜENZA: to be embarrassed/ashamed
Ella tiene vergüenza. She is embarrassed.
TENER ÉXITO: to be successful
Nosotros temenos éxito. We are successful.
TENER CULPA: to be guilty/at fault
Vosotros tenéis culpa. You are in a guilty/it’s your fault.
Bonus Expressions with Tener
While these three don’t take “to be” in English, they are useful expressions to know and have in your back pocket!
TENER GANAS: to feel like/be in the mood for
Yo tengo ganas de cantar. I feel like singing.
TENER EN CUENTA: to keep in mind/take into account
Tú tienes en cuenta el costo. You take the cost into account.
TENER LUGAR: to take place
La cermonia tiene lugar en el estadio The ceremony takes place in the stadium
Watch Out for the Wild Card Traps!
When you are just learning these concepts, it’s easy to make the mistake of using ser or estar instead of tener because, in the end, they all mean “to be” in English. BEWARE! Even though it may seem like a little mistake, you might end up saying something that has a completely different meaning. Here are a few examples of how things can get mighty twisted in translation!
FRÍO: The tricky thing about frío is the noun and adjective forms look identical so you need to be a bit mindful of your sentence construction so you end up saying what you’ve meant to say.
Ellos tienen frío. They are cold. (they need a blanket)
Ellos son fríos. They are cold. (they are unfriendly people)
Ellos estan fríos. They are cold. (they are cold to the touch)
CALOR/CALIENTE: In the case of calor versus caliente it’s a bit easier because the noun form (calor) is so different from the adjectival form (caliente).
Ellos tienen calor. They are hot. (they need A/C)
Ellos son calientes. They are hot. (as in the x-rated variety, they are in heat)
Ellos estan calientes. They are hot. (they are hot to the touch, but could also be the x-rated variety)
TENER SUEÑO/ESTAR CANSADO: The meaning of these two are very similar but the construction is different depending on which you use.
Yo tengo sueño. I’m sleepy.
Yo estoy cansado. I’m tired.
TENER VERGÜENZA versus ESTAR EMBARAZADA
This is a simple “false friend” trap, i.e. a word that looks similar to an English on but has a completely different meaning:
Tener vergüenza means “to be embarrassed”
Estar Embarazada means “to be pregnant”.
This should be enough to keep you out of trouble or just something to play with and see what reactions you get.