20 Idiomatic Expressions in Spanish Using the Verb ‘Tener’
Idiomatic expressions in Spanish are an important part of the language. You know you’re not a beginner anymore when you start using them naturally as a Spanish learner.
Idiomatic expressions in Spanish are words and phrases that have a different meaning from the literal significance of each word. A good English example for this would be the phrase “hold your horses.” The phrase is meant to stop someone from acting impulsively and has nothing to do with actual horses. Idiomatic expressions in Spanish work the same way!
Today, we’re going to look at idiomatic expressions that have the word tener in them. Tener often means “to have,” but when used as an idiomatic expression it can mean “to feel.” Tener is an irregular verb, so it’s also important that you practice it a lot. Check out our post on tener conjugation to learn all about it.
20 Idiomatic Expressions with ‘Tener’
1. Tener que ver
Tener que ver means to be related to or concerned with something. When you say something tiene que ver with another thing, you’re saying that they’re related somehow. You can also say no tiene que ver to say that two things have nothing to do with each other.
Tu gripe tiene que ver con que no usaste suéter en el frío de anoche.
Your cold is related to not using a sweater in last night’s cold weather.
Haber llegado tarde no tiene que ver con el tráfico.
Your being late has nothing to do with traffic.
2. Tener ganas
Tener ganas means to want something or to feel like doing something. You can use it to talk about foods, drinks, or activities that you want (or want to avoid), depending on your mood.
Tengo ganas de ir por un helado de galleta de chispas de chocolate.
I’m craving a chocolate chip cookie ice cream.
Para serte honesto, no tengo ganas de ir a la fiesta del sábado.
To be honest, I don’t feel like going to the party on Saturday.
3. Tener un hambre que parecen dos
This idiomatic expression is the dad joke of idiomatic expressions in Spanish. When you say tengo un hambre… it means to say “I have such hunger…” but un also means one. So when you say tengo un hambre que parecen dos, you’re saying you have a hunger that looks like two hungers. It’s a lame joke, but a great play on words that will help you understand idiomatic expressions in Spanish a little better.
No he comido desde la mañana, tengo un hambre que parecen dos!
I haven’t eaten since morning; I’m starving!
4. Tener tiempo
If you’re facing a tight deadline, you’ll be using this expression quite a bit. Tener tiempo translates to having time, and you use it just like that.
Busy students and professionals are usually quick to say no tengo tiempo! But they always have time to meet up with their friends, don’t they?
Tengo tiempo de reunirnos mañana para decorar la casa.
I have time to meet tomorrow to decorate the house.
Me gustaría planear el debate, pero no tengo tiempo.
I would like to plan the debate, but I don’t have time.
5. Tener tiempos
Tener tiempos has a different meaning from tener tiempo. The phrase means “it’s been a long time.” You can say this to a friend who went to Canada for their masters degree, about that book you read when you were little, or when you finally eat that cake you’ve been saving in the fridge for a special occasion.
¡Pablo, tengo tiempos de no verte! ¿Cómo has estado?
Pablo, it’s been so long! How have you been?
Wow, tenía tiempos de no venir a mi vieja casa. Me da mucha nostalgia.
Wow, it’s been so long since I came to my old home. I’m feeling very nostalgic.
6. Tener mala cara
Tener mala cara means to have a grumpy, sad, or generally negative face. You generally use this when you notice someone is having a bad time or when you’re having a bad time yourself.
Perdón si tengo mala cara hoy.
Sorry if I’m grumpy today.
No pongas mala cara, la tormenta va a pasar pronto.
Why the long face? The storm is ending soon.
7. Tener en cuenta
Tener en cuenta means “to keep in mind.” You can use this phrase to remind you or someone else about important details that shouldn’t be missed!
Ten en cuenta que mañana es feriado y la tienda estará cerrada.
Keep in mind that tomorrow is a holiday and the store will be closed.
No olvides tener en cuenta la alergia al maní de tu tía para la cena de mañana.
Don’t forget to keep your aunt’s peanut allergy in mind for tomorrow’s potluck dinner.
8. Tener lugar
Tener lugar is used to talk about having space. This space can be a seat next to you on the bus, space on your schedule, or even space in your mind or heart! Any kind of real or imaginary space applies to this phrase, so go wild and give space to your imagination when using these idiomatic expressions in Spanish!
Tengo lugar en mi carro por si quieres venirte a la playa el sábado.
I have space in my car if you want to come to the beach on Saturday.
Mi mente no tiene lugar para pensar en vacaciones en este momento.
My mind has no space for thinking about vacation right now.
9. Tener la piel de gallina
This phrase is the equivalent of having goosebumps. This idiomatic expression in Spanish can be used when you’re scared, in love, or when your favorite 11-minute power ballad hits the high note just right.
La hermosa voz del cantante me puso la piel de gallina.
The singer’s beautiful voice gave me the chills.
La película de Coraline me pone la piel de gallina.
The movie Coraline gives me goosebumps.
10. Tener razón
This is one of the favorite idiomatic expressions in Spanish of many people during arguments. Tener razón means to be right, and it does feel great to be right, when the facts check out, of course.
Tenías razón, tirarse de clavado en la piscina era una mala idea.
You were right, diving into the pool was a bad idea.
Tengo mis razones para no decirte lo que sucede en el siguiente episodio de nuestra serie favorita.
I have my reasons not to tell you what happens in the next episode of our favorite series.
11. Tener memoria de pez
I must admit that I fit into this idiomatic expression in Spanish quite well sometimes. Just like Dory from Finding Nemo, tener memoria de pez means having a terrible memory. This is kind of unfair for fish, however, because their bad memory is just a myth. They actually remember things better than we give them credit for!
¡Perdón por olvidar traer los vasos, tengo memoria de pez!
Sorry for forgetting the cups, I have a very bad memory!
12. No tener pies ni cabeza
When you come up with a bad idea or an aimless plan, you can use this phrase to describe that. Translated as having no head or feet, this phrase is used when things make no sense or when plans have no structure.
Tu plan no tiene pies ni cabeza. Piénsalo mejor antes de hacer algo.
Your plan has no rhyme nor reason. Think about it more before you do anything.
La escultura no tenía ni pies ni cabeza, era una masa amorfa de colores mezclados.
I couldn’t make heads or tails of the sculpture; it was an amorphous blob of mixed colors.
13. Tener sangre azul
This phrase means “to have royal blood.” You can use this to make a joke about how great you are, or to criticize someone who’s being a total jerk. Just remember that in the end, all the chess pieces are blocks of wood when they go back in the box, even the king.
Ningún rey ha tenido la sangre verdaderamente azul.
No king has ever had actual blue blood.
Yo sé que soy agraciado y refinado, es porque tengo sangre azul.
I know I’m graceful and refined; it’s because I have blue blood.
14. Tener pelo en pecho
This phrase is used to describe a manly man, the strong guy who opens countless mayo jars and bravely takes spiders out to the garden with a cup and some paper. Regardless of what your definition of manliness is, you can use this phrase to describe someone who fits the bill.
Ramón sí que tiene pelo en pecho, logró arriar 30 vacas por su cuenta.
Ramon sure is manly; he was able to herd 30 cows on his own.
José me dijo que sí tenía pelo en pecho, que metiera la mano en el hormiguero. Pero no soy tan tonto.
Jose told me that if I was man enough, I’d put my hand in the anthill. But I’m not that dumb.
15. Tener gracia
Tener gracia can be used in two different ways. The first one is used to express when something is funny or entertaining. The second one is used to ask someone to be graceful, or to take things seriously. It’s interesting how these two idiomatic expressions in Spanish have opposite meanings despite using the same words!
¡Pedro, tené gracia y dejá de jugar con la comida!
Pedro, be serious and stop playing with your food!
Ese monito haciendo malabares en el semáforo tiene gracia.
That monkey juggling at the stoplight was quite funny.
16. Tener ojos de cachorro
We’ve all been guilty of this one at some point in our lives. Tener ojos de cachorro means to have puppy eyes. It’s generally used when you want to ask someone to do you a favor, like bringing you a candy bar from the store or helping you out with your Spanish homework. This won’t work on your Spanish teacher, so you’d better take your vocabulary homework seriously!
No te voy a comprar ese juguete aunque tengas ojos de cachorro.
I’m not buying you that toy even if you have puppy eyes.
Mi novia me convenció de ir a ver esa comedia romántica porque tiene ojos de cachorro.
My girlfriend convinced me to go see that romcom because of her puppy eyes.
17. Tener pena
Tener pena means to feel either sad or ashamed. In some Latin American countries, we use it as a way to ask for a favor from someone. If you say no tengas pena, you’re telling someone not to worry.
Yo puedo decir cualquier cosa porque no tengo pena.
I can say anything because I have no shame.
No tengas pena mamá, yo llevo a mi hermana a su recital el sábado.
Don’t worry mom, I’ll take my sister to her recital on Saturday.
18. Tener ánimos
Tener ánimos means to be “in the mood,” such as when you’re in the mood for a game of minigolf. You can also use it to describe motivation or anticipation.
Ayer no tenía ánimos de levantarme porque había muchísimo frío.
Yesterday, I had no motivation to get out of bed because it was too cold outside.
Tengo ánimos de ir al circo esta semana.
I’m in the mood to go to the circus this week.
19. Tener claro
Tener claro means to be clear. You can use this phrase when talking about accepting facts or when you understand something very well.
Me gustaría tener claro qué voy a hacer después de que termine el semestre.
I would love to be clear on what I’ll do when this semester ends.
Rosa tenía claras las intenciones de su amiga.
Rosa was clear on her friend’s intentions.
20. Tener sentido
This phrase is one of the idiomatic expressions in Spanish that should be used a lot more by native speakers. A common mistake Spanish speakers make, especially bilingual speakers, is to say hace sentido instead of tiene sentido.
This is because tener sentido means to make sense, and many people translate the phrase wrong. If you manage to get into the habit of saying tiene sentido instead of hace sentido, you’ll be a few steps ahead of even some native Spanish speakers.
Los desvaríos del científico loco no tenían sentido.
The mad scientist’s ramblings made no sense.
Las palabras del sabio tienen mucho sentido.
The wise man’s words made a lot of sense.
¿Tienes Ganas de Aprender Español?
Idiomatic expressions in Spanish are one of the keys to achieving fluency. We looked at many of them that have the word tener in them so you can practice some irregular conjugation while learning one of the most common idiomatic expressions and phrases to boot.
Do you know of any idiomatic expressions that don’t have tener, or maybe an extra one that we missed? Leave a comment and let me know!
If you want to practice idiomatic expressions in Spanish with a certified teacher who’s also a native Spanish speaker, take a free class with Homeschool Spanish Academy and start speaking Spanish from day one.
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