Tener Subjunctive Mood: How to Use it the Right Way
The Spanish verb tener subjunctive conjugations may seem tricky at first sight, but they’re quite simple in reality. Today, I’m going to prove it to you.
When learning new conjugations, the key isn’t to memorize them all, but rather to understand how to use them. If you take this approach, you’ll start introducing the new conjugations into your vocabulary more quickly.
Today, I’ll give you a brief introduction to the Spanish verb tener, discuss its meanings, and review what the subjunctive mood is. Then, we’ll dive into the three subjunctive simple tenses in which you can conjugate the verb tener—and see helpful examples of each one.
Introduction to Tener
The verb tener which 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. The tener subjunctive conjugation is quite unique. Let’s start by analyzing the various tener meanings.
Different Meanings of Tener
Tener literally means “to have,” and that’s also its most common use.
Tengo un carro negro.
I have a black car.
However, you can also use it to express age. This is when tener takes the role of the verb “to be” in English. Although in English you don’t “have” years, in Spanish that is the case.
Carlos tiene 18 años.
Carlos is 18 years old.
In this odd relationship with the verb “to be” in English, tener is used to express many different ideas. For example you can tener hambre in Spanish but “be hungry” in English. Or tener sueño in Spanish but “be sleepy” in English.
It also appears as an auxiliary verb in compound phrases to express obligation with the expression “tener que” + verb (to have to + verb).
Tengo que limpiar mi cuarto.
I have to clean my room.
Finally, tener pops up in many idiomatic expressions.
The Subjunctive: Is a Mood or a 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 I strongly recommend reading our 3-part series about the Spanish subjunctive.
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!
Ready to learn more Spanish grammar? Check these out!
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