‘Tener’ Subjunctive Mood: How To Use It the Right Way
The subjunctive forms of the Spanish verb tener may look hard at first, but they are actually quite easy. We are going to show you why!
Luckily, you don’t need to memorize all of these conjugations—instead, focus on understand their usage to be able to apply the verb to all sorts of new scenarios.
Keep reading to learn more about the Spanish verb tener, its many meanings, and how to use it in the subjunctive mood. Then, learn three easy subjunctive tenses you can use with the verb tener and see examples of each.
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The Spanish Verb ‘Tener‘
The verb tener means “to have, to own, or to possess,” and is one of the most frequently used verbs in the Spanish language. It has different meanings and several uses.
For instance, one of the most confusing uses of the verb tener for Spanish learners is when it plays the role reserved for the verb “to be” in English. It’s also an irregular verb with a unique subjunctive conjugation.
Let’s start by analyzing the various tener meanings.
Different Meanings of Tener
1. Literally meaning “to have,” which is its most common use.
Tengo mandados que hacer.
I have errands to run.
2. Use it to express age.
Carlos apenas tiene 18 años.
Carlos is barely 18 years old.
3. Use it to express a person’s condition.
Could he be sleepy?
4. Use it as an auxiliary verb in the compound phrase “tener que” + verb (to have to + verb).
Ella tiene que consolidar todos los archivos.
She has to consolidate all the files.
5. Tener pops up in many idiomatic expressions.
Tienes mala cara, ¿estás bien?
You look tired. Are you all right?
You might like: 20 Idiomatic Expressions Using the Spanish Verb ‘Tener’
The Spanish Subjunctive: Mood or Tense?
There are 18 tenses in the Spanish language, and the subjunctive is not one of them. The tenses indicate “when” an action takes place, while the moods indicate the “intention” of the speaker. The subjunctive is one of three moods in Spanish, the other two being the indicative and the imperative.
The key to understanding the subjunctive is that it “expresses the meaning of the verb as a non-reality.” However, to better understand the particularities of this mood, read our Master Guide to the Subjunctive in Spanish.
The subjunctive mood can be used in different tenses—that’s to say, in different references to time, which is what we explore below using three most common tenses.
Tener Subjunctive: Conjugations
The tener subjunctive conjugations come in three main simple tenses:
- Present Tense
- Imperfect Tense (with two variations)
- Future Tense
Let’s see each of them in detail.
Remember, the subjunctive is the mood that allows you to express non-real ideas such as wishes, desires, or possibilities. Notice how each conjugation uses the same stem teng-.
|Tener Subjunctive||Present Tense|
You can use these conjugations after the word ojalá (hopefully) and the expression espero que (I hope that).
Espero que tengas hambre.
I hope you’re hungry.
Ojalá que tengamos algo que hacer mientras esperamos.
Hopefully we’ll have something to do while we wait.
Notice how in the last example, the translation to English is in the future tense. This is one of the “weird” peculiarities of the subjunctive in Spanish.
Use the imperfect tense in subjunctive to talk about uncertain situations or wishes as past actions. The imperfect tense always has two variations, and they’re both correct. In the first imperfect, all conjugations use the stem tuvier-, while in the second one they keep the stem tuvies-.
|Tener Subjunctive||Imperfect Tense 1 (-ra)|
|Tener Subjunctive||Imperfect Tense 2 (-se)|
Si tuviera un hermano, podría jugar fútbol con él.
If I had a brother, I could play football with him.
Esperaba que tuvieses tiempo para hablar.
I was hoping that you had time to talk.
The tener subjunctive conjugation is not commonly used, as most people tend to use the present subjunctive instead. However, you’ll still find it in formal writing such as literary works or legal documents. It translates to English in the same way as in the future indicative tense “will have.” It uses the same stem as the imperfect tense 1: tuvier-.
|Tener Subjunctive||Future Tense|
Si alguno tuviere hambre, coma en su casa.
If anyone is hungry, eat at home.
Al que tuviere sed, yo le daré de la fuente del agua de vida gratuitamente.
To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life freely.
Please notice how I had to use biblical quotes to find examples of tener subjunctive in the future tense. That’s all you need to know about this specific conjugation.
Tener Subjunctive in Adjective Clauses
Adjective clauses are dependent clauses that act as nouns. When the adjective clause modifies something uncertain, vague, or nonexistent, you need to use the subjunctive mood.
In order to use adjective clauses with tener subjunctive conjugations, make sure that the adjective clause modifies something vague or nonexistent. Find the adjective clause in bold in the following examples.
No me importa lo que tengas que hacer.
I don’t care what you have to do.
No hay nada que tengamos que comprar.
There is nothing that we need to buy.
¿Hay alguien que tenga información al respecto?
Is there anybody that can give us information about it?
Notice how in each case, the adjective clause is modifying something vague or undefined, and for that reason we used the subjunctive.
Practice the Tener Subjunctive
The subjunctive is a mood that sounds weird in theory, but once you get to use it you realize that it’s actually quite straightforward. In this case, the old saying is true—“practice makes perfect.”
Sign up for a free class with one of our certified teachers from Guatemala and start using the tener subjunctive conjugations today!
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