tener vs haber

The Spanish verbs Tener and Haber can be sometimes confusing because both can be translated to English as ‘to have’. Nonetheless, throughout this blog post you will be able to understand the differences and see how to use tener vs haber like a true local.


Difference Between Tener and Haber

The main difference between Tener and Haber is that Haber mainly works as an auxiliary verb to conjugate compound verbs in the perfect tenses.


In contrast, Tener cannot be used as a helping verb. Read the example below out loud and you will see how strange it sounds!


Let’s continue to learn more about the meanings of this couple of verbs.

When to Use the Verb Tener in Spanish

tener and haber

As is the case with other Spanish verbs, Tener can adopt more than one connotation depending on the context, but the main use of it is generally applied to circumstances where you want to talk about someone’s possessions or describe attributes of the subject (be it a person, thing, place, animal or object). 

In this instance, Tener can be replaced with words such as have, possess, own, maintain, enjoy, and contain.


Tener, when accompanied with time words, can be used to express the duration or the age of the subject that is being spoken of. 

Thus, note that when it comes to talk about age, in Spanish you use the verb Tener (as in ‘to have’), whereas in English the right verb is ‘to be’. As odd as it may sound, in Spanish “you have five years” and in English “you are five years old”.


tener vs haber

Another common use of Tener is to call upon things that have happened to you in the past or simply occurred in previous times. In English, it translates to the past forms of the verb ‘to have’.

In addition, Tener can be used to describe feelings, attitudes or emotional experiences. Note how on some of the following sentences the verb translates as ‘to be’ instead of as ‘to have’.


Occasionally, Tener can be used to point out the venue where an event takes place.


And finally, there is an interesting old Spanish saying:

Uses of the Spanish Verb Haber

haber vs tener

As it was mentioned in the beginning of the article, the auxiliary verb Haber mainly serves to conjugate other verbs in the compound tenses.


Look at the example below; the perfect tense is constructed with the helping verb Haber conjugated in different forms, plus the infinitive form of the main verb Comer (to eat), in this case Comido.

He comido
Había comido
Hube comido
Habré comido
Habría comido
Haya comido
Hubiere comido
Hubiese comido

The second most common use is where Haber can be understood as “there is” (something is happening, exists physically or figuratively, or located somewhere specific). That is why in many occasions it could be translated to English as ‘to be’.


Finally, it can be used to denote the need of doing something or complying with a requirement.

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