Idiomatic Expressions with "Tener"


  1. The written lesson is below.
  2. Links to quizzes, tests, etc. are to the left.


An idiom is an expression that cannot be immediately understood by analyzing its literal meaning. A few examples of idioms in English are:

to be “on the go”
to “play the field”
to “jump the gun”

Spanish also has many idiomatic expressions. Although their literal translations sound odd to English speakers, they sound perfectly natural to native speakers. Here is one example:

Idiom: Hace mucho frío

Literally: It makes much cold

True Meaning: It is very cold

There are many idiomatic expressions that use the verb tener. This one expresses age:

Idiom: tener _____ años

Literally: to have _____ years

True Meaning: to be _____ years old

Many other expressions using tener express physical sensations:

tener frío
to be cold
tener calor
to be hot
tener hambre
to be hungry
tener sed
to be thirsty
tener sueño
to be sleepy
tener dolor de
to hurt or be sore, etc.

There are also many idiomatic expressions with tener that express sensations more psychological in nature:

tener prisa
to be in a hurry
tener miedo a/de + noun
to be afraid of something
tener miedo a/de + infinitive
to be afraid to do something
tener celos
to be jealous
tener confianza
to be confident
tener cuidado
to be careful
tener vergüenza
to be ashamed

There are other idiomatic expressions with tener as well:

tener razón
to be right
tener éxito
to be successful
tener la culpa
to be guilty
tener suerte
to be lucky
tener lugar
to take place
tener ganas de
to feel like
tener en cuenta
to take into account

When using these idiomatic expressions, conjugate the verb (tener) according to the subject of the sentence.

Yo tengo cinco años.
tienes ocho años.
Pablo tiene dos años.

Notice that the expressions combine the verb tener with a noun:

  • el año
  • los celos
  • el frío
  • la confianza
  • el calor
  • el cuidado
  • el hambre (feminine)
  • la vergüenza
  • la sed
  • la razón
  • el sueño
  • el éxito
  • el dolor
  • la culpa
  • la prisa
  • la suerte
  • el miedo
  • el lugar

Because the expressions with tener use nouns, they are modified with adjectives, not adverbs.

Tengo frío.
Tengo mucho frío. (not muy)

The first practice exercise and test will cover ten of the most common and useful of these expressions:

  • tener _____ años
  • tener calor
  • tener frío
  • tener hambre
  • tener sed
  • tener prisa
  • tener miedo a/de _____
  • tener razón
  • tener suerte

Practice exercises 2-4 and test 2 will cover all of the expressions in this lesson.