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How to say “had” in Spanish

The Spanish verb Tener has a lot of conjugations — let’s learn the many ways this verb is used, including the preterite, imperfect past tense, future, and subjunctive. We’ll also get a lot of spoken practice using Tener in context.

Full Podcast Episode


Today vamos a tener the rest of Tener.

Intro: Join us on a rigorous, step-by-step journey to fluency. I’m Timothy and this is LearnCraft Spanish.

Let’s learn all the rest of our important tenses and moods of Tener, including the past, future, and subjunctive.

To begin with, we’re going to learn both the preterite and the imperfect past tenses, because they’re actually both quite common for Tener, although the imperfect is a bit more common.

First of all, the imperfect forms all stress the syllable “ni”. So:

“I had” is tenía,

“he/she/it/usted had” is also tenía,

“you had” is tenías,

“they had” is tenían,

and “we had” is teníamos.

If you’re using memory palaces to memorize these conjugations, which is what we recommend, imagine that you and your friends are at the Tener toy shop, and at the checkout area, there are toys that are hanging from the ceiling so far down that you have to crawl on your hands and knees to get past them. This ends up hurting your knees a bit because of lots of littered toy fragments on the floor.

Either way, let’s look at some ways we can use this general-purpose past tense before we learn the preterite.

What did you have there?

¿Qué tenías ahí?

She had them(f).

Ella las tenía.

They always had that.

Siempre tenían eso.

How did we have this?

¿Cómo teníamos esto?

I had them(m).

Yo los tenía.

By the way, let’s look at something that frequently happens in Spanish when the subject of the sentence doesn’t really fit anywhere in the structure. Check out this question:

Where do the boys have it?

In Spanish, we know this should start with dónde, and we know that we also need lo tienen and los chicos. But how do we structure this? In most questions like this, we start with ¿dónde lo tienen?, and then los chicos can just be thrown on the end. So here is the whole sentence:

Where do the boys have it?

¿Dónde lo tienen los chicos?

This is pretty weird to us English speakers because the subject almost never comes last in an English sentence. But this is actually a pretty common sentence template in Spanish, especially for questions that ask who, what, where, when, how, or how much.

So see if you can predict the Spanish for this one, using a formal voice:

Where do you(formal) have it?

¿Dónde lo tiene usted?

Now let’s move on to the preterite past tense forms of Tener. These are conjugated exactly like the preterite forms of Estar, but without the first syllable. So for example, remember that we learned:

I was there for a year.

Estuve ahí por un año.

We can change estuve to simply tuve and change the meaning of the sentence to something like this:

I had a house for a year.

Tuve una casa por un año.

We can also change estuvo to simply tuvo. For example:

I had her here for a while.

La tuve aquí por un tiempo.

Now, why would we use the preterite of Tener rather than simply tenía or one of the other imperfect forms?

The imperfect tends to refer to something that was generally true in the past. The preterite is used when what you’re describing is more of a specific action, or when it happened during a defined length of time. In many cases, having something is just an ongoing reality in the past; for example:

When we were in Arizona we had a nice house.

Cuando estábamos en Arizona teníamos una buena casa.

But “having” something is often a sudden event, especially in idiomatic situations such as “she had a baby” or “he had an accident”. In those cases you’ll use the preterite.

If you’re using a memory palace to organize your imperfect and preterite forms, remember that the imperfect forms are all at the checkout counter, where you’re crawling on your hands and knees. But in the merchandise area of the toy store, there are some red shelves with some very strange, deformed dolls with two heads, and with two feet on each leg, which looks bizarre and uncomfortable. Thinking of these dolls as “two faced” and “two-footed”  might help you remember the terms tuve and tuvo.

Either way, let’s practice a few uses of these common preterite forms.

My friend(f) had a baby yesterday!

¡Mi amiga tuvo a baby yesterday!

¡Mi amiga tuvo un bebé ayer!

I had that book(m) once.

Tuve ese book una vez.

Tuve ese libro una vez.

He had a problem that day.

Tuvo a problem ese día.

Tuvo un problema ese día.

I had a meeting that night.

Tuve a meeting esa noche.

Tuve una reunión esa noche.

Next let’s learn the future forms of Tener. Obviously you can always say voy a tener, van a tener, and so on to put Tener in the future, literally “I’m going to have”, “they’re going to have”, etc. But the future-tense forms of Tener are actually pretty common, so let’s learn them.

Remember that in the first person, the future of Estar is estaré and the future of Ser is seré. These words mean “I will be”. The future of Tener also stresses “re”, but instead of teneré, it’s shortened and modified: tendré, spelled t-e-n-d-r-e, with an accent mark on the letter E. This means “I will have”. For example:

I will have it that day.

Lo tendré ese día.

And then “he/she/it will have” is tendrá, which is also shortened and modified from what would be expected. If you’re using the memory palace, imagine that all of you are right in front of the store, outside, where we keep the future tense. You yourself are using your magic wand to point at the store, which emphasizes the syllable “ray”, but meanwhile the store owner is sitting down on his store’s front porch and drawing with chalk. This represents tendrá.

Here’s a sentence example, using a formal voice:

You(formal) will not have time.

Usted no tendrá tiempo.

We can modify these two forms, tendré and tendrá, to represent all the other persons we need to learn. The informal “you will have” is tendrás, and “they will have” is tendrán. Both of these emphasize “draw”, so maybe imagine that the pandas and the kid with curly hair are drawing with chalk as well. Meanwhile, “we will have” is tendremos, emphasizing “ray”.

Let’s practice these forms with a mini-quiz.

Will you have a house?

¿Tendrás una casa?

They won’t have those things.

No tendrán esas cosas.

No, we won’t have time.

No, no tendremos tiempo.

I will only have a year.

Solo tendré un año.

All done, she WILL have it.

Ya está, ella sí lo tendrá.

To wrap up this lesson let’s learn the subjunctive. All the subjunctive forms of Tener are based on the word tenga. It’s a bit weird that this has a G in it, but it’s reminiscent of the form tengo, which we learned in the present tense. So if you’re using the memory palace, imagine that in the junk area behind the toy store, there’s a muddy patch of land full of a bunch of discarded dancing dolls; these dolls are not functioning right, so instead of tengo dolls, they’re tenga dolls.

One way or another, our forms are tenga, tengas, tengan, and tengamos. Let’s get some practice.

I hope he has a good day!

¡I hope que tenga un buen día!

¡Espero que tenga un buen día!

She doesn’t want me to have friends.

Ella no wants que yo tenga amigos.

Ella no quiere que yo tenga amigos.

We’re going to go to Costa Rica when we have time.

Vamos a ir a Costa Rica cuando tengamos tiempo.

I wish for them to have good friends like her!

¡I wish que tengan buenos amigos como ella!

¡Deseo que tengan buenos amigos como ella!

I hope that you DO have those things. 

I hope que sí tengas esas cosas.

Espero que sí tengas esas cosas.

All right, we’ve learned a lot of forms of Tener in this episode, and we’re going to spend the rest of this week learning some more fun and creative things you can do with this verb. But for now, let’s get some comprehensive practice with all our conjugations of Tener, using today’s final quiz.

She hopes I have my passport on time.

Ella hopes que yo tenga mi passport a tiempo.

Ella espera que yo tenga mi pasaporte a tiempo.

They won’t have what she had, because they aren’t friends.

No tendrán lo que ella tenía, porque no son amigos.

My friends and I have great communication!

¡Mis amigos y yo tenemos great communication!

¡Mis amigos y yo tenemos una gran comunicación!

They didn’t have what I had that day.

Ellos no tenían lo que yo tuve ese día.

When I was a kid, I didn’t have many friends.

Cuando era un kid, no tenía many amigos.

Cuando era un niño, no tenía muchos amigos.

You will never have everything.

Nunca tendrás todo.

All good? Do you have the project I requested?

¿Todo bien? ¿Tienes the project que I requested?

¿Todo bien? ¿Tienes el proyecto que pedí?

The lady has had a lot of trouble.

La señora ha tenido a lot of trouble.

La señora ha tenido muchos problemas.

We’ll have the TV when she has the money.

Tendremos the TV cuando ella tenga the money.

Tendremos la TV cuando ella tenga el dinero.

I really hope that you have what she has.

De verdad I hope que tengas lo que ella tiene.

De verdad espero que tengas lo que ella tiene.

I think they have the book you wanted.

I think que ellos tienen the book que you wanted.

Creo que ellos tienen el libro que querías.

I told you we didn’t have them(m).

Te I told que no los teníamos.

Te dije que no los teníamos.

She had an accident that day.

Tuvo an accident ese día.

Tuvo un accidente ese día.

My friend will have the book that is so controversial.

Mi amigo tendrá the book que es tan controversial.

Mi amigo tendrá el libro que es tan controvertido.

I have the documents on behalf of my friend.

Tengo the documents por mi amigo.

Tengo los documentos por mi amigo.

You didn’t have the things.

No tenías las cosas.

I’ll have a headache upon studying.

Tendré a headache al studying.

Tendré dolor de cabeza al estudiar.

He's upset since we want to have that.

Está upset ya que we want tener eso.

Está molesto ya que queremos tener eso.

My mom hopes we have a good day.

Mi mom hopes que tengamos un buen día.

Mi mamá espera que tengamos un buen día.

Remember that you can get more practice with all of this at LCSPodcast.com/52.

Tomorrow we’re going to learn how to say things like “I have to do it” and “they have to have that”, using Tener to express ourselves in new ways.

This show is brought to you by LearnCraftSpanish.com. The Spanish voice in this episode was our coach Ximena Lama-Rondón. Our music was provided by the Seattle Marimba Quartet, and I’m Timothy, encouraging you to do the hard work of learning Spanish. Acquiring a second language is one of the most fulfilling things you can do, so start your fluency journey today at LCSPodcast.com.

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