To have or… to have?
If you’re a Spanish language learner, that’s a very good question!
In Spanish there isn’t just one—but two!—words for “to have,” and they make speaking the language twice as interesting.
Or is it twice as confusing?
Tener (to have) and haber (to have) can do both—they’re an interesting part of the Spanish language but they can also be a tad confusing, especially for beginning learners.
But don’t fret! We’ve untangled the “to have” mess and made it so clear that even beginners will be able to deal with this grammar issue easily. And it only takes about 10 minutes!
Let’s see how these Spanish verbs are used.
What Does Tener Mean?
Tener is an irregular verb, which means that it doesn’t take on the typical –er endings when it’s conjugated. No worries about that, though.
Take a look at this table to see how it’s actually conjugated.
|Yo tengo||I have|
|Tú tienes||You have|
|Él/ella/usted tiene||He/she/you have|
|Nosotros tenemos||We have|
|Ellos/ellas tienen||They have|
|Ustedes tienen||You have|
|Vosotros tenéis||You have|
When to Use Tener in Spanish
In Spanish, the verb tener is used in three primary ways.
First, use tener when you need to say that you have something.
Tengo las entradas de béisbol en mi bolso. (I have the baseball tickets in my purse.)
Tienen helado. (They have ice cream.)
When you want to comment on an appearance, such as a person’s age or a physical detail, use the verb tener.
Mi abuela tiene ojos grises. (My grandmother has gray eyes.)
Ese hombre de la bicicleta tiene una linda sonrisa. (That man on the bicycle has a nice smile.)
Finally, when you’re trying to say that something has to be done, use the phrase tener que.
Nosotros tenemos que ir a la playa. (We have to go to the beach.)
Rosa tiene que hacer su tarea. (Rosa has to do her homework.)
What Does Haber Mean?
Haber is an auxiliary verb, which means it accompanies the main verb to form a verb phrase.
It’s considered a “helper” verb since it assists the main verb to express the full action being discussed. And like tener, it doesn’t take on the regular –er endings.
But don’t fret! We have another excellent table to show you how it’s done.
|Yo he||I have|
|Tú has||You have|
|Él/ella/usted ha||He/she/you have|
|Nosotros hemos||We have|
|Ellos/ellas han||They have|
|Ustedes han||You have|
|Vosotros habéis||You have|
When to Use Haber in Spanish
To express an event that has been done or will be completed, use the verb haber.
Ha bailado en el teatro. (He has danced in the theatre.)
Ellos ya se han ido. (They have already gone.)
Haber has a handy conjugated form that means “there is” or “there are,” which is used extensively in Spanish. Hay is one word that may be tiny but it packs a mighty punch—Spanish speakers use this small word all the time!
And as a result, you’ll be using it a lot, too.
Hay un coche grande en la calle. (There is a big car in the street.)
Hay muchas bicicletas amarillas en el parque. (There are many yellow bicycles in the park.)
Resources to Practice Tener vs. Haber
Quia is the ideal spot for Spanish learners to practice using the verb tener. There’s a fast-paced, fun little game on the site that’s just a fill-in-the-blank. However, it’s a great activity for getting used to using this verb in all its forms.
Every correct response brings a “monetary jackpot” up a level. The longer the winning streak, the higher the jackpot. It’s a fun challenge to try to get to the jackpot—and it’s not as easy as you might think!
Missing an answer sends the jackpot down to zero, so work hard and fast—and have fun!
Learners could benefit from using this resource during small pockets of spare time. I play this game when I’m standing in line or waiting in a parking lot.
Every extra bit of Spanish language practice helps make our skills stronger, right?
FluentU gives Spanish language learners the opportunity to have an immersive experience—from anywhere! Don’t bother with a passport or plane tickets—just hop onto FluentU and feel as if you’ve traveled to a Spanish-speaking country!
Curated Spanish videos allow learners to enjoy authentic Spanish media—the same kind native speakers enjoy! This is an ideal method for modeling pronunciation, powering up speaking and listening skills and grabbing lots of cultural information.
While watching a video, if you see a word you don’t know yet, just click (or tap) on it in the subtitles. FluentU will then instantly show you its meaning, example sentences and related images.
Plus, you can look up any word or verb—like tener and haber—in FluentU’s dictionary. Once you’ve searched for one, you’ll be met with videos that use the word in context, the translation and example sentences.
Finally, after each video, you’ll take a quiz. And never forget the words you learn thanks to FluentU’s spaced repetition flashcards that store vocab in your long-term memory.
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Spanish to Learn Free offers Spanish learners a chance to test their skills. Their exercise challenges learners to fill in the blanks using ser (to be) or estar (to be) and haber (to have) or tener (to have).
What’s particularly beneficial about this site is that it requires users to write in their responses. There aren’t choices available, so it’s really a chance to gauge how strong your verb skills are.
Additionally, a keyboard is supplied for the insertion of accent marks where required.
Learners should work with these exercises to gain practice writing, spelling and, of course, using the targeted verbs correctly.
Sporcle’s Spanish quiz on these verbs is just plain fun. It’s a beat-the-clock challenge—which makes this like a game rather than simple study time.
With the clock ticking down, learners must choose the correct answers for a series of fill-in-the-blank sentences.
Learners gain valuable skills by learning to think quickly and respond without hesitation. When you’re able to respond to Spanish easily, your conversational skills grow. So this exercise not only reinforces verb skills, but also benefits other areas of Spanish, too.
And a great feature of this game is that learners can play it over and over again. Try to whittle down the time it takes to complete the exercise. Or challenge yourself to get every answer correct!
Study.com delves into the verb tener and is a super spot for any Spanish learners who feel they need some additional explanations or practice regarding this verb and its usage.
Plus, you can take the quiz more than once if you find your skills are lacking. Simply do some additional studying and retake the quiz. I’m sure you’ll power up your skillset!
A lesson and course are also available for learners to expand their knowledge on this important verb, so when you have time, take a peek to gain lots of useful information!
There’s no denying it: The whole tener vs haber challenge is undoubtedly one of the most intricate bits of Spanish grammar.
But that doesn’t mean it’s difficult. It’s not!
This is just one of those instances where you’ve got to apply the rules and keep practicing. Remember, every fluent Spanish speaker was once a beginner and had to grapple with grammar issues. You can do it, too!
Get familiar with the grammar rules and use these verbs often. On the bright side, that won’t be difficult because they’re used daily in conversations, music and television. These two verbs are essential backbones of this amazing language.
With enough practice, you’ll “have” it eventually—I promise!
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