There are phrases in almost any language that cannot be perceived as the sum of the words they consist of. Such phrases are known as idioms, or idiomatic expressions. In English, idioms are so numerous that it is often hard for a non-native speaker to understand the meaning of an utterance. Here are a few examples:
- to be the brightest bulb
- to cry for the moon
- to be pear-shaped
Other idioms are just fixed word combinations that have an obvious meaning but the parts of which cannot be replaced on a whim. In English, these include some simple phrases like:
- to be cold
- to be hungry
- to be hurt, etc.
Spanish Idioms with Tener
Here comes the trick: in Spanish, those easy-to-understand idioms are built with the help of the verb tener meaning “to have”.
Here’s the thing to remember:
- (English) to be hungry = to be + adjective
- (Spanish) tener hambre = to have + noun
The most surprising idiom for English speakers would probably be
- tener X años – to be X years old
E.g.: Soy Fanny. Tengo veintiún años.
Can you imagine, in Spanish people believe they have the years they have lived?!
But then, there is more!
Physical States with Tener
Tener is used in many idioms that describe a person’s physical state:
Emotional States with Tener
Emotional states a person can experience are often described in Spanish with the use of tener as well:
Other Uses of Tener in Idioms
I cannot find a word that can be used as an umbrella term for all the idioms below, so I will simply list them:
There are also idioms like tener lugar (to take place), tener en cuenta (to take into account), or tener ganas de (to feel like) that you may find handy.
Emphasis in Tener Idioms
As I have already said, the Spanish idioms with tener are different from their English counterpart because of their grammatical structure as well. In Spanish, they consist of a verb plus a noun. You should remember about this peculiarity especially in cases when there is a need to add emphasis to a quality or state you are speaking about.
For example, you would describe the intensity of your hunger by adding the adverb very to the initial idiom:
- I am very hungry.
The Spanish equivalent of the adverb very is muy, but you cannot use it in the Spanish translation of the same phrase because adverbs can only modify verbs and adjectives, and tener is always followed by a noun. As nouns are modified with adjectives, you should use a Spanish adjective meaning much:
- Tengo mucha hambre.
Please note: the adjective should match the gender of the noun it modifies, and hambre is a feminine noun, hence the final –a. If tener is combined with a masculine noun, mucho should be used:
- You are very cold. – Tienes mucho frío.
Let’s practice the idioms now to transfer them from your passive vocabulary into the active one you will effortlessly use.