Expressions with ‘Tener’

Something we find out at the beginning of our language lessons is that English and Spanish often have very different ways of saying the same thing. This sounds like an obvious statement, but some people take longer than others to realize it. In other words, we have to let go of the need for ‘word for word’ translation and just understand that ‘that is how the Spanish say it’, so that’s what we have to learn.

A good example of this difference is the way the Spanish talk about ‘having’ something when we say ‘being’ something. For example, let’s start with age:

We say ‘I am 21 years old.’ or ‘He is 60 years old.’  

In Spanish this is Tengo 21 años (literally, I have 21 years) and Tiene 60 años (he has 60 years).  

Naturally the tense can change any way we want. For example:

El año que viene tendré 22 años. (Next year I will be 22).  

Something you may not have considered, is what happens when we are talking about babies who are months, weeks or even days old. We replace the word años for other time periods like this:

¿Cuántos meses tiene tu nieto?

Solo tiene 6 semanas.  

We might ask someone with a very young baby:

¿Cuánto tiempo tiene? Literally: ‘How much time has he/she got?’, which really doesn’t sound right in English at all.

Some other expressions of this sort are fairly well known. For example:

‘to be hungry’ is tener hambre (to have hunger).  

On occasions we may hear, possibly just before lunch:

¡Qué hambre tengo! (What hunger I have!)  

The same thing applies to being thirsty:

We have to say that we ‘have thirst’.  For example:

Cuándo llegaron, todos tenían mucha sed. (When they arrived they were all very thirsty.)

Similarly in Spanish we ‘have cold (or coldness)’ and ‘have heat’ when we experience different temperatures.What this leads to is one of those classic mistakes that non-Spaniards make from time to time:

Tengo calor means ‘I am hot’. (i.e. the weather is hot and I am feeling the consequences).  

If you translate literally from English and say Estoy caliente, you are saying ‘I am feeling randy!’.  Apart from the obvious implications of saying this to the wrong person at the wrong moment, my dictionary also informs me that this is a ‘vulgar’ expression – so you have been warned on two counts.

You probably know the word entiendo (I understand), but if you understand something really well, or are convinced about something, you can also say lo tengo claro (literally ‘I have it clear’ or perhaps ‘It is clear to me’).  For example, someone might have just given you some complicated instructions and then checked that you know what to do.  You can say Si, lo tengo claro, (Yes, it’s all clear), or perhaps No lo tengo claro de todo, (it is not absolutely clear to me).   That’s a useful one when you want to disguise the fact that you haven’t understood a thing!

Lastly, another expression which really doesn’t have a good equivalent in English is tener ganas, (to have the ‘desire’ for something).  Our nearest equivalent is to ‘feel like something’. This is often used in the negative No tengo ganas (I don’t feel like it).  Whatever it is, is entirely open to your imagination.

Vamos a dar un paseo.

No, no tengo ganas is the sort of thing I mean, or if you are thinking of following up the estoy caliente theme, you can try Tengo ganas de ti.  Please report back the results to my contact details in the adjoining advertisement, thank you.

Jane Cronin’s ‘Step by Step Spanish’ articles are available as E-books at where you can also obtain Jane’s ‘Step by Step Internet Spanish Course’.