Spanish Grammar: How To Stop Confusing Tener Vs Haber

tener vs haber

Get our free email course, Shortcut to Conversational.

Have conversations faster, understand people when they speak fast, and other tested tips to learn faster.

More info

If you were to Google Translate Tener vs Haber, then the result would lead you to believe that both verbs mean: to have.

pasted image 0

Although this is technically correct, both verbs are used very differently and are not as interchangeable as Google Translate would have you believe.

In this post, we will clarify exactly how and when to use Tener vs Haber.

Spanish Grammar: How and When To Use Tener

It’s likely that you’re already familiar with the verb tener, since it’s one of the most used verbs in Spanish.

Just to recap, the verb tener is irregular, and means “to have”.

Tener is normally used to express possession, but it can also be used to emphasize something that has already been done, or an obligation/action that needs to be done, by using “have to” sentences.

How To Conjugate Tener

Personal Pronoun Present


Imperfect preterite

(Used to have)


(Will have)

Simple past


Yo / I Tengo Tenía Tendré Tuve
Tú / You Tienes Tenías Tendrás Tuviste
Él – Ella / He – She Tiene Tenía Tendrá Tuvo
Usted / You Tiene Tenía Tendrá Tuvo
Nosotros – Nosotras / We Tenemos Teníamos Tendremos Tuvimos
Ustedes / You (plural) Tienen Tenían Tendrán Tuvieron
Ellos – Ellas / They Tienen Tenían Tendrán Tuvieron

Below are the main uses of the verb tener.

1) Tener, to talk about possession

Just as we use “to have” in English, we can use tener to express possession.

  • I have a pink computer – Tengo una computadora rosada
  • We had a beach house – Teníamos una casa en la playa
  • He has a good job – Él tiene un buen trabajo
  • You have wonderful grandparents – Tú tienes abuelos maravillosos
  • She doesn’t have a boyfriend – Ella no tiene novio

2) Tener, to talk about characteristics or age

The verb tener is also used to talk about characteristics, physical qualities, and age.

  • I have long hair – Tengo el cabello largo
  • You have beautiful eyes – Tú tienes los ojos hermosos
  • She has many tattoos – Ella tiene muchos tatuajes
  • My son is 10 years old – Mi hijo tiene 10 años
  • Their cat has 3 paws – Su gato tiene 3 patas

3) Tener + que (to have to do something)

“Tener + que” is used to express an obligation and is the equivalent to how English speakers use “have to” something.

The formula to form these sentences is very simple:

Tener (conjugated) +  que + infinitive verb + complement

  • I have to wash the clothes – Tengo que lavar la ropa
  • You have to do the homework – Tienes que hacer la tarea
  • You have to be kinder – Usted tiene que ser más amable
  • We have to study for the test – Tenemos que estudiar para el exámen
  • They have to be responsible – Tienen que ser responsables

4) Tener as an auxiliary verb

Most Spanish students probably aren’t aware of this one, since it’s only applicable to very specific contexts.

The verb tener is sometimes used as an auxiliary verb in order to reiterate or emphasize an executed action in the sentence.

Later on, we will examine how haber is also used as an auxiliary verb, and in this case, the difference between both is very subtle.

In the auxiliary form, tener expresses an action that has not completely ended, or has a continuation until something interrupts it.

Let’s see an example of both tener vs haber in the auxiliary form to illustrate the difference.

  • I understand (have an understanding) that this road is closed – Tengo entendido que ese camino está cerrado
  • I’ve understood what they said in classes – He entendido lo que dijeron en clases

If we break it down, then “tengo entendido” means that someone explained something to me at some point and that information is still valid for me, since I have not received any information that says the opposite.

“He entendido” refers to something recent, what someone just explained to me, and I just understand it.

Below is the formula to use the verb tener as an auxiliary verb.

Tener (conjugated) + verb in participle + complements

  • I have made your dinner – Tengo hecha tu cena
  • He has written his wedding vows – El tiene escrito sus votos
  • They have lost the room key – Ellos tienen perdida la llave de la habitación
  • I have planned to travel to Spain next year – Tengo planeado viajar a España el año que viene
  • She has approved all classes – Ella tiene aprobadas todas las clases

If you look closely, in the examples, the verb in the past participle and the complement respect the gender and number.

  • I have failed only one test – Tengo reprobado solo un exámen
  • I have failed all exams – Tengo reprobados todos los exámenes

Don’t worry if you don’t fully grasp this concept right away. It’s unlikely that you will come across tener being used as an auxiliary verb very often.

And if you do, then at least you’ll now be able to recognize it.

5) Tener, to express feelings, desire or some idiomatic expressions

As you have probably come across already, in Spanish we use the verb tener to express certain emotions, physical or mental states.

Let’s see some examples:

  • I´m hot – Tengo calor
  • I was right – Yo tenía razón
  • We are sleepy – Tenemos sueño
  • The children are scared – Los niños tienen miedo
  • We are hungry – Tenemos hambre
  • He had a headache – Él tenía dolor de cabeza
  • I was lucky – Tuve suerte

Spanish Grammar: How and When to use Haber

Haber is one of the most important and most used verbs in Spanish, and depending on the context, can mean: to have, to have to (as an obligation), to exist, to do, or to proceed.

For example, below are three different uses:

  • There is a lot of food at the party – Hay mucha comida en la fiesta
  • I have cooked all day – He cocinado todo el día
  • It’s necessary to cook dinner – Hay que cocinar la cena

How To Conjugate Haber

1) Haber as an auxiliary verb with Perfect tenses

The most common use you’ll come across for the verb Haber is as an auxiliary verb of all verbs, including itself (Has been – Ha habido).

And when it is used in this way, it must respect the personal pronoun which it refers to.

Below is a conjugation chart of the verb Haber in the most common tenses.

Personal Pronoun Present


Imperfect preterite

(Used to have)


(Will have)

Present Subjunctive


Imperfect subjunctive

(Would have)


(Would have)

Yo He Había Habré Haya Hubiera/se Habría
Has Habías Habrás Hayas Hubieras/ses Habrías
Él – Ella Ha Había Habrá Haya Hubiera/se Habría
Usted Ha Había Habrá Haya Hubiera/se Habría
Nosotros – Nosotras Hemos Habíamos Habremos Hayamos Hubiéramos /semos Habríamos
Ustedes Han Habían Habrán Hayan Hubieran/sen Habrían
Ellos – Ellas Han Habían Habrán Hayan Hubieran/sen Habrían
  • I have studied a lot today – Yo he estudiado mucho hoy
  • Have you brought what the teacher asked for? – ¿Has traído lo que pidió la maestra?
  • He had been the boss for 5 years – Él había sido el jefe por 5 años
  • She had said what happened, but they didn’t believe her. – Ella había dicho lo que sucedió, pero no le creyeron
  • When we have finished working, we can go to eat – Cuando hayamos terminado de trabajar, podemos ir a comer
  • You could have gone on the trip – Ustedes habrían podido ir al viaje
  • If they had paid attention, they would have passed the exam – Si ellos hubieran prestado atención, habrían pasado el exámen

2) Haber as an impersonal verb.

Haber is also used as an impersonal verb, and this is probably its most common use among some native Speakers.

It’s used the same as the English equivalent:  “There is / There are”

  • There is a concert this Saturday – Hay un concierto este sábado
  • There was a fight on the street – Hubo una pelea en la calle
  • There will be a garage sale – Habrá una venta de garaje

As you can see, there’s no personal pronoun or subject in this sentences, hence why it’s called an impersonal verb.

When you use the verb haber like this, there are only three ways that it can be conjugated.

English equivalent Haber
There is / There are Hay
There was / there were Hubo
There will be Habrá

In this form, haber will always be formed as a singular, even if you are talking about a plural situation.

  • There is an emergency exit at the end of the aisle – Hay una salida de emergencia al final del pasillo
  • There are many people at the concert – Hay muchas personas en el concierto
  • There was a confusion – Hubo una confusión
  • There were several opinions – Hubo varias opiniones
  • There will be a movie theater on the cruise – Habrá una sala de cine en el crucero
  • There will be some changes in the sales department – Habrá algunos cambios en el departamento de ventas

3) Haber + Que

Another impersonal form for the verb haber.

When used in this way, it expresses that something must occur, be verified or must be done. It talks about an obligation or something that should be done, without saying who is going to execute that action.

Hay que” is used to express a necessity, the English equivalent being “it is necessary”, “one must”, “it must” or any other expression similar to this.

The formula for making sentences with this impersonal form of the verb is:

Haber (Conjugated) + Que +  infinitive verb

  • It’s necessary to study a lot to pass the test – Hay que estudiar mucho para pasar el exámen
  • It’s necessary to change the lock – Hay que cambiar la cerradura
  • It’s not necessary to lose control – No hay que perder el control
  • It’s necessary to think before acting – Hay que pensar antes de actua

Spanish Grammar Practice: Tener vs Haber:

Do you know when to use Tener vs Haber?

Add the correct verb and conjugation to the below sentences.

(scroll below for answers)

1. ___ ____ sido buena estudiante

(I have been a good student)

2. ____ muchas cosas por hacer aún

(There are still  many things to do)

3. ____ ____ tenido mucha suerte

(They have been very lucky)

4. ____ ____ comprar los boletos de avión

(I have to buy the plane tickets)

5. ____ ____ llamar un taxi

(You have to call a cab)

6. El bebé _____ mucha hambre

(The baby is very hungry)

7. Los gemelos _____ 19 años

(The twin brothers are 19 years old)

8. _____ una lista con preguntas para el profesor

(I have a list with questions for the teacher)

9. _____ dolor de barriga y por eso fueron al hospital

(They had stomach ache  and that’s why they went to the hospital)

10. ____ ____ limpiar la cocina antes que llegue mamá

(It’s necessary to clean the kitchen before mom arrives)

11. ____ ____ comer muchos vegetales

(It’s necessary to eat a lot of vegetables)

12. ____ ____ dicho la verdad

(They have tell the truth)

13. ______ comprada la torta de cumpleaños

(We have bought the birthday cake)


1. Yo he sido buena estudiante

2. Hay muchas cosas por hacer aún

3. Ellos han tenido mucha suerte

4. Tengo que comprar los boletos de avión

5. Tienes que llamar un taxi

6. El bebé tiene mucha hambre

7. Los gemelos tienen 19 años

8. Tengo una lista con preguntas para el profesor

9. Tenían dolor de barriga y por eso fueron al hospital

10. Hay que limpiar la cocina antes que llegue mamá

11. Hay que comer muchos vegetales

12. Ellos han dicho la verdad

13. Tenemos comprada la torta de cumpleaños


Get our FREE 7-day email course, Shortcut to Conversational

The exact strategies you need to become conversational in Spanish this year. Join the course now, before we come to our senses and charge for it!

This blog is presented by BaseLang: Unlimited Spanish Tutoring for $179 a Month. Learn more here.