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.

Example:

  • El año tiene cuatro estaciones. -> The year has four seasons.
  • La primavera ha comenzado. -> Spring has started.

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.

Example:

  • María tiene dos hermanas. -> María has two sisters.
  • María ha llegado a la fiesta con sus dos hermanas. -> María has arrived to the party with her two sisters.

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

Example:

  • María tiene llegado con sus dos hermanas.

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

When to Use the Verb Tener in Spanish

tener vs 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.

Example:

  • Pepe tiene un par de ojos verdes. -> Pepe has a pair of green eyes.
  • Pepe tiene una casa de fin de semana en Valle de Bravo. -> Pepe has a country home in Valle de Bravo.
  • El pueblo de Valle de Bravo tiene un lago donde se pueden realizar deportes acuáticos. -> The village of Valle de Bravo has a lake were you can practice water sports.
  • Las casas junto al lago tienen que cumplir con ciertos requisitos de construcción para mantener la armonía del paisaje. -> The houses by the lake have to meet certain construction requirement to mantain the harmony of the landscape.
  • La habitación principal tiene balcón con vista al lago.  -> The main room has a balcony overlooking the lake.

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

  • ¿Tendrás un minuto? -> Do you have a minute?
  • Tuvimos poco tiempo. -> We had little time.
  • Tengo años sin verlo. ­-> I haven’t seen him for ages.

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”.

Example:

  • ¿Qué edad tienes? -> How old are you?
  • Tengo cuarenta años. -> I am forty years old.
  • Señor, ¿cuántos años tiene su hijo? -> Sir, how old is your son?
  • Manuel tiene tres años. -> Manuel is three years old.
difference between tener and 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’.

  • Tuve mi primer trabajo cuando todavía estaba en la escuela. -> I had my first job when I was still at school.
  • Las niñas tuvieron que correr para alcanzar el tren. -> The girls had to run to catch the train.
  • Tu madre y yo teníamos diecinueve años cuando tuvimos nuestra primera cita hace 25 años. -> Your mother and I were nineteen years old when we had our first date 25 years ago.
  • El Imperio Romano tenía control sobre un vasto territorio. -> The Roman Empire had control over a vast territory.
  • Hubiera tenido más tiempo de estudiar si no hubiese ido a la fiesta. -> I would have had more time to study if I hadn´t gone to the party.
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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’.

Example:

  • ¿Tuviste un mal día? -> Did you have a bad day?
  • Por favor, ten mucho cuidado, ese hombre me da mala espina. -> Please, be very careful, that man gives me a bad feeling (aka I don’t trust that man).
  •  El pequeño tendría miedo de la ira de su padre. -> The little one would be afraid of his father’s rage.
  • Tendrás hambre si no desayunas bien. -> You will be hungry if you don’t have a proper breakfast.
  • Tengo ganas de ir a la playa. -> I feel like going to the beach.
  • Mi madre le tiene mucho cariño a su vecina. -> My mother is very fond of her neighbor.
  • Hay que tener valor para subir el Monte Everest. -> You have to be courageous to climb Mount Everest.
  • Teniendo en cuenta los últimos sucesos, es necesario diseñar un nuevo plan de acción. -> Taking into account the latest events, is necessary to design a new action plan.

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

Example:

  • El partido entre el Barça y el Real Madrid tendrá lugar en el estadio Camp Nou. -> The match between Barça and Real Madrid will take place at Camp Nou stadium.

And finally, there is an interesting old Spanish saying:

  • En casa para estar bien: pan, aceite y vino has de tener. -> To be well at home you should have bread, oil, and wine. (How could they be wrong?!)

Uses of the Spanish Verb Haber

difference between tener and haber

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

Example:

  • Te había dicho que no me despertaran. -> I had told you not to wake me up.
  • Al muchacho le hubiera gustado conocer a su padre. -> The boy would have liked to meet his father.

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’.

Example:

  • Hubo un terremoto en la India. -> There was an earthquake in India.
  • En la boda habrá música en vivo. -> There will be live music at the wedding.
  • Antonio conoce todos los bares que hay en su barrio. -> Antonio knows all the bars (that there are) in his neighborhood.
  • Podría haber una tormenta en el Mar del Caribe. -> There could be a storm in the Caribbean Sea.
  • Habían veinte personas en la fila del banco. -> There were twenty people at the banks line.

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

  • Hay que cerrar las ventanas antes de salir de casa. -> You have to close the windows before leaving home.
  • Habré de conformarme con la decisión del juez. -> I will have to comply witht he judge’s decisión.
  • Los señores habrán de ir de cacería. -> The gentelmen will have to go hunting.

Going deeper with Spanish

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