“It Can’t Be Helped” and Other Expressions with Tener You Need to Know
You probably know the word “tener” means “to have.”
But why does “tengo hambre” mean “I’m hungry”?
If you’ve ever struggled to understand this, then you already know that tener is a little more complicated than it looks.
It’s a common word, too, used in a wide variety of phrases and expressions.
Sometimes it makes sense. Other times… not so much.
Learning some of the more common phrases that use tener will help you get the hang of this challenging verb—and you’ll even come away with a few colorful expressions to add to your repertoire.
The Importance of Studying Tener
If you already know that tener is the infinitive form of the verb “to have,” you may be tempted to congratulate yourself and put the more challenging stuff on the back burner.
However, taking some time to go over key expressions that use this versatile verb has a couple of benefits.
Between its irregular yo form and an affinity for stem-changing, tener is an ongoing conjugation challenge that only gets easier with a lot of practice. Studying Spanish and using tener expressions will help you practice conjugating tener, a skill that comes in handy even when the word isn’t being used idiomatically.
Learning frequently-used expressions is an important part of communicating like a native. It’s very possible to express some of the following ideas without touching tener, but you’ll reveal yourself as a rookie if you’re not able to use this common word correctly.
How to Practice Tener Expressions
The phrases included in this post are just a small sample of the expressive prowess of tener. To keep practicing on your own, try the following tips:
- Once you’ve learned a few excellent expressions, try incorporating them into your conversations. You might be surprised how often the word comes up.
- Another important part of tener practice is paying attention to how it’s used. Keep an eye (and an ear) out for tener and make note of any usages you don’t understand.
- Watch authentic videos to see how tener expressions and other common phrases are used in context. It’s a great way to combine immersion-style practice with an extra focus on the terms you’re practicing.
The immersive, entertaining content makes Spanish grammar and vocabulary much more memorable!
14 Expressions with Tener for Everyday Situations
1. tener que — to have to
For those times when you just have to do something, tener que is the phrase you’re looking for.
This is one of those uses of que that illustrates the flexibility of the word (translating as “to” rather than the usual “that”), but just think of the whole phrase as “to have to” and you’ll be good to go.
Tengo que comprar unas manzanas.
I have to buy a few apples.
No tenemos que visitar la biblioteca mañana.
We don’t have to visit the library tomorrow.
2. tener un buen día — to have a good day
This phrase is mostly used when saying goodbye if you want to wish someone a nice day—and hey, life’s too short not to offer well wishes.
Of course, it’s impossible to know whether the person in question will then have a good day or not, so you’ll need to break out the subjunctive tense for this one.
Another hint: The expression generally carries que (that) at the front, with the implication being something like “(I hope) that you have a nice day.”
Tengo que salir. Que tengas un buen día.
I have to leave. Have a good day.
Adiós, María. Adiós, Carlos. Que tengan un buen día.
Goodbye, Maria. Goodbye, Carlos. Have a good day.
3. tener que ver (con) — to have to do (with)
You know how to say “to have,” and you know how to say “to do,” but if you start going on about “X tiene que hacer con Y,” you’re likely to get some funny looks. Nope! The expression in Spanish is tener que ver.
Mi queja tiene que ver con el servicio a la habitación.
My complaint has to do with the room service.
Eso no tiene nada que ver.
That has nothing to do with it.
4. tenerlo fácil — to have it easy
Fortunately, there are still a few Spanish expressions that are exactly what the label says. Tenerlo fácil literally means “to have it easy,” and it means the same thing it does in English.
Juan tiene un trabajo que paga bien. Lo tiene muy fácil.
Juan has a job that pays well. He has it so easy.
Si quieres tenerlo fácil, debes trabajar duro al principio.
If you want to have it easy, you should work hard in the beginning.
5. tener hambre/sed/sueño — to be hungry/thirsty/sleepy
Tener is also used to express various states of being.
While in English we would say “I’m hungry,” “I’m cold” or “I’m in a hurry,” a Spanish-speaker would use tener. For instance, tengo hambre—literally “I have hunger”—means the same thing same thing as “I’m hungry.”
¿Tienes calor? Has trabajado todo el día bajo el sol.
Are you hot? You’ve worked in the sun all day.
No puedo hablar ahora. Tengo prisa.
I can’t talk now. I’m in a hurry.
6. tener (número) años — to be (number) years old
On a related note, tener can also express age. How many years do you have?
No puedes beber cerveza hasta que tengas 21 años.
You can’t drink beer until you’re 21 years old.
Después de mi cumpleaños, tendré 25 años.
After my birthday, I will be 25 years old.
7. tener lugar — to take place
Do you need to describe where something is happening? Don’t be fooled into using tomar (to take) for this expression. It’ll have to be tener!
Esta escena tiene lugar en un bosque cerca de Atenas.
This scene takes place in a forest near Athens.
La conferencia tendrá lugar en Nueva York.
The conference will take place in New York.
8. tener ganas de (infinitivo) — to feel like (doing something)
Try not to get this mixed up with ganar (to win, to gain). Gana simply means “desire” or “wish.” Therefore, tener ganas de followed by a verb expresses a desire or wish to do something.
Después de esa comida, tengo ganas de dar una vuelta.
After that meal, I feel like taking a walk.
Supongo que no tiene ganas de jugar con nosotros.
I suppose he/she doesn’t feel like playing with us.
9. tener en cuenta — to take into account
You might be familiar with cuenta from previous adventures in restaurant Spanish: The word means “account” and can also be used for “bill” or “check.”
When used with tener, however, it refers to taking something into account in the sense of keeping it in mind.
Ten en cuenta que aún tengo que devolver la chaqueta.
Take into account that I still have to return the jacket.
Tuve en cuenta la edad del carro cuando lo compré.
I took the age of the car into account when I bought it.
10. tener éxito — to be successful
Once you’ve learned not to be tripped up by the false cognate éxito (the word means “success,” not “exit”), it’s time to get used to placing tener in front of it.
“To have success” may sound strange to an English-speaker’s ears, but tener éxito is the equivalent of phrases that are more common in English: “to be successful” or “to succeed.”
Ha tenido éxito en todo lo que hace.
He’s been successful at everything he does.
Es importante estudiar mucho para tener éxito en tus exámenes.
It’s important to study a lot to succeed on your exams.
11. tener la culpa — to be at fault
Culpa means “fault” or “guilt” (yes, just like mea culpa in Latin), so, naturally, it’s not something you want to have.
However, if you ever feel the need to call out someone else’s wrongdoing (or your own), use tener la culpa.
No tiene la culpa de lo que sucedió en la casa.
What happened at the house isn’t his fault.
Les voy a convencer de que tienes la culpa.
I’m going to convince them that you’re to blame.
12. tener a (alguien/algo) por — to take (someone/something) for
We’ve already seen how tener can line up with “to take” in certain phrases. If you keep that in mind, you should have no trouble understanding how it’s being used here.
Me tuvieron por un plomero o milusos o algo.
They took me for a plumber or handyman or something.
Tengo a Carlos por un amigo leal.
I consider Carlos to be a loyal friend.
13. no tener remedio — to not be able to be helped
There are plenty of times in life when your problems don’t have easy solutions, when you feel like throwing your hands up and saying it can’t be helped.
Fortunately, learning how to use the phrase no tener remedio isn’t one of those situations.
Quería solucionar el problema, pero no tiene remedio.
I wanted to solve the problem, but it can’t be helped.
Su tendencia a comportarse como un bobo no tiene remedio.
His tendency to act like a fool can’t be helped.
14. tener claro — to be sure
Claro means “clear,” so tener claro is used for situations when something is very clear to someone or when someone is sure about something.
Tienen claro que el proyecto es necesario.
They’re sure that the project is necessary.
Tengo claro que tengo que seguir aprendiendo español.
It’s clear to me that I have to keep learning Spanish.
If words are the building blocks of language, tener is like a keystone. The fact that it’s used in so many different expressions means that mastering the word is an important step toward learning how to express yourself in new ways.
Keep practicing tener, keep using the phrases in this post and tendrás mucho éxito (you’ll be very successful).
¡Que tengas un buen día! (Have a good day!)
Costa Rica Pura Vida Language School