haber vs tener in spanish

Haber vs Tener: A Guide to Spanish Verbs Haber and Tener

Dennys Caldera Boka Published on January 19, 2024

The Spanish verbs haber and tener can be tricky. They both translate to “have” but each one is used in a specific context. In this guide, we’ll delve into the conjugation and usage of these two verbs, explore when and how to use them, and highlight their similarities and differences. By the end, you’ll be able to use haber and tener in Spanish without a problem.

haber vs tener in spanish

Haber vs Tener: Similarities and Differences

Both haber and tener can translate to “have” in English, but they are used in different contexts. Haber is mainly used as an auxiliary verb in compound tenses, and is also used as an impersonal verb to express existence or presence. Tener is used for possession, states, and obligations. 

Haber: Conjugation and Usage

The Spanish verb haber can help you express the existence of something and form compound tenses. In this exploration, we’ll see the different roles that haber plays in the Spanish language.

Haber as an Impersonal Verb

In Spanish, we use the impersonal form of haber when we want to indicate the presence or existence of people, animals, or things. This form usually translates to “there is” or “there are” in English. This form is a bit unique because it doesn’t have a specific subject, and it’s always conjugated in the third person singular. It can be followed by a complement or direct object, and they don’t need to match in terms of singular/plural agreement.

When haber is used as an impersonal verb, this is how you conjugate it in the indicative mood. The indicative deals with facts, covering events that have occurred, are occurring, or will occur.

TenseSpanishEnglish
PresentHay There is/are
ImperfectHabía There was/were
PreteriteHubo There was/were
FutureHabrá There will be
ConditionalHabría There would be
Present PerfectHa habido There has/have been
PluperfectHabía habido There had been
Future PerfectHabrá habido There will have been
Conditional PerfectHabría habido There would have been

Examples:

  • Hay alguien esperando en tu oficina. / There is someone waiting in your office. – singular
  • Hay muchas personas en el parque. / There are many people at the park. – plural
  • Había mucho tráfico esta mañana. / There was a lot of traffic this morning. – singular
  • Había varios restaurantes en esta calle hace años. / There were several restaurants on this street some years ago. – plural
  • Habrá una reunión la próxima semana. / There will be a meeting next week. – singular
  • Habrá muchos alumnos en esa clase. / There will be many students in that class. – plural

Haber as an Auxiliary Verb in Perfect Tenses

Haber can also be an auxiliary or “helping” verb, along with the main verb in participle form to construct compound tenses. It functions as the equivalent of the English auxiliary verb “have.” Within the indicative mood, these are the forms you’ll encounter for the auxiliary verb haber.

PresentImperfectPreteriteFutureConditional
He
I have
Había
I had
Hube
I had
Habré
I will have
Habría
I would have
Has
You have
Habías
You had
Hubiste
You had
Habrás
You will have
Habrías
You would have
Ha
He/she has
You (formal) have
Había
He/she/you had
Hubo
He/she/you had
Habrá
He/she/you will have
Habría
He/she/you would have
Hemos
We have
Habíamos
We had
Hubimos
We had
Habremos
We will have
Habríamos
We would have
Habéis/Han
You (plural) have
Habíais/Habían
You had
Hubisteis/Hubieron
You had
Habréis/Habrán
You will have
Habríais/Habrían
You would have
Han
They have
Habían
They had
Hubieron
They had
Habrán
They will have
Habrían
They would have

Examples:

  • Ella ha viajado a muchos países por trabajo. / She has traveled to many countries for work.
  • Hemos tenido muchos problemas esta semana. / We have had many problems this week.
  • Yo había hecho la cena cuando llamaste. / I had made dinner when you called.
  • Habré terminado la tarea para entonces. / I will have finished the homework by then.

To Express Necessity or Suggestion

“Haber + que” helps us express obligation or necessity. This impersonal form conveys that something must occur, be verified, or must be done. It doesn’t specify who will execute the action. Note that the translation into English uses the subject “it,” but a subject isn’t necessary in the Spanish form.

  • Hay que practicar mucho para jugar bien. / It is necessary to practice a lot to play well.
  • Hay que comprar otra computadora. / It is necessary to buy another computer.
  • No hay que llegar tan temprano. / It is not necessary to arrive so early.
  • Hay que ser justo con los demás. / It is necessary to be fair with others.

How to Conjugate Tener and When to Use It

The Spanish verb tener is another versatile verb in Spanish that has many uses. The following table introduces the three most common conjugations of tener. You can check all the conjugations in this complete tener conjugation guide.

SubjectPresentPreteriteFuture Simple
YoTengo  Tuve  Tendré  
Tienes  Tuviste  Tendrás  
Él/Ella/UstedTiene  Tuvo  Tendrá  
NosotrosTenemos  Tuvimos  Tendremos  
Vosotros/UstedesTenéis/Tienen  Tuvisteis/Tuvieron  Tendréis/Tendrán  
Ellos/EllasTienen  Tuvieron  Tendrán  

You can use tener in different situations, as it is a versatile verb. Let’s look at some of its most common uses.

Tener to Express Possession

At its core, tener is the go-to verb for expressing possession or ownership. Much like “to have” in English, it expresses what you possess:

  • Tengo algo para darte. / I have something to give you.
  • Teníamos una casa en la playa. / We had a beach house.
  • Él tiene dos hijos hermosos. / He has two beautiful kids.
  • Tienes un trabajo muy interesante. / You have a very interesting job.

Tener to Express Characteristics and Age

The verb tener is also used to describe characteristics, physical qualities, and age in Spanish. In some instances, the verb tener is used when you might use the verb “to be” in English.

  • Tengo el cabello castaño claro. / I have light brown hair.
  • Tienes una linda sonrisa. / You have a nice smile.
  • Mi hija tiene 15 años. / My daughter is 15 years old.
  • Él tiene una personalidad muy agradable. / He has a very nice personality.

Tener to Express Physical or Emotional States

Tener is a common verb used in Spanish to express emotions, physical, and mental states. As mentioned above, we generally use “to be” in English for these types of expressions.

  • Tengo frío. / I’m cold.
  • Tenías razón. / You were right.
  • El bebé tiene hambre. / The baby is hungry.
  • Tuve mucha suerte. / I was really lucky.
  • Tenemos ansiedad por el examen. / We are anxious about the exam.
  • Ayer tuve un terrible dolor de cabeza. / Yesterday I had a terrible headache.
  • Los niños le tienen miedo a la oscuridad. / The kids are afraid of the dark.

Tener to Express Obligation

You use the formula “Tener + que” to express obligation or something you must do, similar to the English “have to” construction. It’s commonly used to indicate a requirement or duty that must be completed 

  • Tengo que limpiar la cocina. / I have to clean the kitchen. 
  • Tienen que hacer la tarea. / You have to do the homework.
  • Usted tiene que ser puntual en el trabajo. / You have to be punctual at work.
  • Tenemos que terminar el informe esta noche. / We have to finish the report tonight.
  • ¡Tienen que apurarse! / They have to hurry!

Tener Ganas to Say “I Feel Like”

Lastly, use the expression “tener ganas de + infinitive form” to convey the idea of “I feel like…” in Spanish:

  • Tengo ganas de comer helado. / I feel like eating ice cream.
  • Pedro tiene ganas de ir al cine. / Pedro feels like going to the movies.
  • Tenemos ganas de hacer algo diferente esta noche. / We feel like doing something different tonight.

How to Practice Haber and Tener

Haber and tener are two essential Spanish verbs, and it’s important to know the difference in their meanings and uses. There are different ways to improve your Spanish skills. You can create sentences using both verbs in different tenses and contexts. You can also try to engage in conversations or write short texts using these verbs to reinforce your understanding.

You can use language learning apps for quick Spanish lessons and to learn new vocabulary. Last but not least, read books, watch movies, and listen to Spanish speakers to see how these verbs are used in real-life situations. With consistent practice, you’ll be able to use these verbs in Spanish conversations without effort.

Final Thoughts

Haber and tener are fundamental verbs in Spanish, each with its unique roles and applications. By understanding when and how to use them, you can express yourself accurately and fluently in a variety of situations. Whether you’re describing possession, expressing obligation, or forming compound tenses, these verbs are essential tools to communicate effectively. So, get ready to spice up your conversations and unleash the full potential of your Spanish communication.

Dennys Caldera Boka

Dennys is a content writer at Langoly. He’s passionate about language learning and has been helping others achieve their goals and develop their language skills for many years. He’s interested in emerging technologies and how they can help people reskill and upskill. He loves cooking, watching sci-fi movies, and listening to podcasts. Connect with Dennys on LinkedIn.

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