Haber vs Tener: Simple Steps to Understand the Differences
Let’s deep dive into the differences between haber vs tener!
Both haber and tener can be translated as “to have” in English. So, what’s the difference between these two verbs? It’s important for Spanish learners to realize that both verbs are used differently and are not interchangeable.
Keep reading to discover the key points when to use haber vs tener!
Haber vs Tener: The Main Difference
In Spanish, haber is often used as an auxiliary verb. It is involved in the formation of all Spanish compound tenses, meaning it needs to be combined with another conjugated verb in order to make sense.
In contrast, tener is used as a main verb. You’re probably quite familiar with tener, as it’s one of the most common verbs in Spanish. It means “to have, own, or possess.”
Uses of Tener
In Spanish, tener is used to express possession, age, and obligation. Tener also appears in many Spanish expressions.
Tener can indicate possession.
Yo tengo una falda roja.
I have a red skirt.
Él tiene un trabajo bueno.
He has a good job.
Ellos tienen una hija.
They have a daughter.
Teníamos una casa en el lago.
We had a lake house.
Tú tenías abuelos maravillosos.
You had wonderful grandparents.
Ella no tiene perro.
She doesn’t have a dog.
Express Age and Characteristics
Tener is used to talk about a person’s characteristics, physical qualities, and age.
¿Cuántos años tienes?
How old are you?
Yo tengo 40 años.
I am 40 years old.
Tengo el cabello corto.
I have short hair.
Tienes los ojos hermosos.
You have beautiful eyes.
Ella tiene muchos tatuajes.
She has three tattoos.
Su gato es blanco y negro.
Their cat is black and white.
Use tener + que + the infinitive form of a verb to express obligation in Spanish.
¡Tienen que limpiar la cocina!
You all have to clean the kitchen!
Tengo que cocinar la cena.
I have to cook dinner.
Usted tiene que ser más sensible.
You have to be more sensitive.
Tienes que estudiar español.
You have to study Spanish.
Tener in Idiomatic Expressions
Tener appears in Spanish phrases that express feelings, emotions, or sensations.
- tener calor – to be hot
- tener frío – to be cold
- tener celos – to be jealous
- tener cuidado – to be careful
- tener hambre – to be hungry
- tener sed – to be thirsty
- tener miedo – to be scared
- tener razón – to be right
- tener sueño – to be sleepy
- tener suerte – to be lucky
- tener ganas de – to feel like
Tengo mucho calor.
I’m very hot.
You were right.
We are sleepy.
Ellos tienen miedo.
They are scared.
Él tenía dolor de panza.
He had a stomach ache.
I was lucky.
Tener as an Auxiliary Verb
This use of tener is only applicable to specific contexts. It is sometimes used as an auxiliary verb to express an action that has not ended.
Later in this post, we will see how haber is also used as an auxiliary verb. In this case, the difference between tener vs haber is subtle. Luckily, tener is not often used in this way.
Tengo entendido que la clase está cancelado.
I understand (have an understanding) that the class is cancelled.
He entendido lo que dijeron.
I’ve understood what they said.
To use tener as an auxiliary verb, the formula is tener (conjugated) + verb in participle.
Tengo hecho tu desayuno.
I have made your breakfast.
Él tiene escrita su novela.
He has written his novel.
Ellos tienen perdida la llave de la habitación.
They have lost the room key.
Tengo planeado viajar a Chile el año que viene.
I have planned to travel to Chile next year.
Uses of Haber
The verb haber is not only an auxiliary verb in Spanish; it can also be an impersonal verb. In this case, it expresses existence and translates to “there is” or “there are.”
You can use haber to express existence in the past, present, or future. It can only be conjugated in the following ways. In this form, haber is always formed as a singular, even if you are talking about a plural situation.
- hay – there is/are
- había – there was/were
- hubo – there was/were
- habrá – there will be
- habría – there would be
- ha habido – there has/have been
Hay una manzana en la canasta.
There is an apple in the basket.
Hay ocho manzanas en la canasta.
There are eight apples in the basket.
Había un gato en la casa.
There was a cat in the house.
Había muchos gatos en la casa.
There were many cats in the house.
(Note that it would be incorrect to use the plural conjugation habían here.)
No hay ningún papel en la mesa.
There are no papers on the table.
Hay juguetes en el piso.
There are toys on the floor.
Hubo un trancón en la carretera.
There was a traffic jam on the road.
No hubo muchas mujeres en la fiesta.
There were not many women at the party.
As you can see, there’s no personal pronoun or subject in these sentences, hence why it’s called an impersonal verb.
Hubo una confusión.
There was a confusion.
Habrá una reunión mañana.
There will be a meeting tomorrow.
Haber can express that something must occur or be done. It talks about an obligation without saying who is going to execute that action. The formula for making sentences with this impersonal form of the verb is:
haber (conjugated) + que + infinitive verb
Hay que cambiar la cerradura.
It’s necessary to change the lock.
No hay que perder control.
It’s not necessary to lose control.
Hay que pensar antes de actuar.
It’s necessary to think before acting
Form Compound Spanish Tenses
Haber is used to form Spanish compound tenses. In this usage, it is equivalent to the auxiliary verb “to have” in English. In addition, it’s always preceded by past participles (verbs that end in –ado or –ido, like dormido or caminado). Let’s see some examples!
Yo he estado allí.
I have been there.
Ella ha vivido en India por muchos años.
She has lived in India for many years.
Nosotras hemos sido amigas desde 1994.
We have been friends since 1994.
Learn More About Haber vs Tener
¡Felicidades! You know all about how to use haber vs tener in Spanish. Remember to review the conjugations of both, as they are two of the most common Spanish verbs! According to the Fundéu BBVA, a.k.a. the Spanish language and grammar police, haber is the #1 most important Spanish auxiliary verb!
Learn all the haber conjugations.
Learn all the tener conjugations.
Haber vs tener is just one example of the subtle nuances of the Spanish language. Cultural elements and contextual cues are key to communication. Enhance your Spanish skills with our excellent certified teachers from Guatemala today in a free trial class. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can become fluent in Spanish!
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