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Conjugating the Irregular Spanish Verb Tener (to Have)

Spanish verbs fall into different groups, and each group is conjugated a little differently. If you’re going to master Spanish verbs like tener, you need to be able to identify which group a verb belongs to: regular (follows regular conjugation rules for -ar, -er, and -ir verbs), stem-changing (morphs depending on how you use it in a sentence), spelling-changing (has consonant-spelling changes in some forms to follow pronunciation rules), or reflexive (reflects the action back on the subject of the sentence).

Tener (teh-nehr) (to have) is a tricky -er verb; sometimes it’s regular, and sometimes it’s not. In the present tense, it has an e-to-ie stem change in all but the yo, nosotros, and vosotros forms. Notice that the yo form is completely irregular. Here’s the present tense conjugation:

The Present Tense of Tener
Conjugation Translation
yo tengo I have
tú tienes You (informal) have
él/ella/ello/uno tiene He/she/one has
usted tiene You (formal) have
nosotros tenemos We have
vosotros tenéis You all (informal) have
ellos/ellas tienen They have
ustedes tienen You all (formal) have

The following examples show you tener in action:

  • Yo tengo dos perros. (I have two dogs.)

  • ¿Tienes novelas en tu casa? (Do you have novels at your house?)

In the preterit, tener has an irregular stem: tuv-. Notice also that it doesn’t have the accent marks regular verbs use in the preterit. Take a look:

The Preterit Tense of Tener
Conjugation Translation
yo tuve I had
tú tuviste You (informal) had
él/ella/ello/uno tuvo He/she/one had
usted tuvo You (formal) had
nosotros tuvimos We had
vosotros tuvisteis You all (informal) had
ellos/ellas tuvieron They had
ustedes tuvieron You all (formal) had

But wait — it gets better. Tener is one of those verbs that shifts meaning in the preterit; here, it means “to have at a certain time.” Sound confusing? Check out the following examples:

  • Yo tuve ocho clases el año pasado. (I had eight classes last year.)

  • Mis padres tuvieron tres hijos. (My parents had three sons.)

You’re off the hook with the stem change in the imperfect form; tener conjugates normally. Check out the following table and examples.

The Imperfect Tense of Tener
Conjugation Translation
yo tenía I used to have
tú tenías You (informal) used to have
él/ella/ello/uno tenía He/she/one used to have
usted tenía You (formal) used to have
nosotros teníamos We used to have
vosotros teníais You all (informal) used to have
ellos/ellas tenían They used to have
ustedes tenían You all (formal) used to have

Here are some examples of the imperfect tense:

  • ¿Tenías una bicicleta cuando eras niño? (Did you used to have a bicycle when you were a child?)

  • Sí. Tenía una bicicleta. (Yes. I did used to have a bicycle.)

Tener also has an irregular stem in the future tense: tendr-. However, it does use the normal future endings:

The Future Tense of Tener
Conjugation Translation
yo tendré I will have
tú tendrás You (informal) will have
él/ella/ello/uno tendrá He/she/one will have
usted tendrá You (formal) will have
nosotros tendremos We will have
vosotros tendréis You all (informal) will have
ellos/ellas tendrán They will have
ustedes tendrán You all (formal) will have

The following samples put the future tense to work:

  • El profesor tendrá suficientes libros para todos los estudiantes. (The teacher will have enough books for all of the students.)

  • Los estudiantes tendrán mucho que leer. (The students will have a lot to read.)

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