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Published on: Grammar

Every Way to Use the Tener Preterite Conjugation in Spanish

Today we’re taking a look at one of the most commonly used irregular verbs, tener. This simple verb can have plenty of different meanings and it should be one of the verbs words you master in the Spanish language.

So in this article, we’ll be examining how to conjugate tener, as well as how to use it naturally in the preterite tense. Tener can have many different uses that are important to know, so the earlier you learn the conjugation chart, the better.

¡Tenemos que empezar!

Tener Definition

The Spanish verb tener means “to have” at its most basic form. But one thing to note is that when combined with “que”, it can also mean “to have to”. This essentially means that we’ll need to use the tener conjugation for an endless amount of scenarios. 

Depending on your Spanish level, you might already be fairly comfortable using this verb. But just to make sure, we’ll be going over how to conjugate tener in the present, preterite, and past subjunctive.

Want to check out more guides on difficult verbs? Check out our Ver Preterite Tense Conjugation and Pedir Preterite Tense Conjugation articles.

Tener Present Tense Conjugation

Here we have the verb chart for the present indicative tense. You’ll notice that in the indicative mood, the Spanish verb tener is irregular in just about every conjugation form. 

Subject Pronoun Tener
Yo Tengo
Tú / Vos Tienes / Tenés 
Él / Ella / Usted Tiene
Nosotros Tenemos
Vosotros Tenéis 
Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes Tienen

 

Here, it’s important to pay attention to two key changes:

  1. The yo form undergoes a special change and ends in -go
  2. It’s a stem-changing verb, so the E changes to IE

Although if you’ve made it this far into your Spanish studies, you’ve probably already got this down-path. But it never hurts to do a quick review, right?

There are lots of common irregular verbs that we have to memorize one at a time. Make sure to go read our full guide on Hacer preterite conjugation if you haven’t yet.

Tener Preterite Tense Conjugation

Now that we’ve done that quick review, it’s time to go over what you came here for. We need to learn the tener conjugation in the preterite tense. 

Let’s look at the verb chart:

Subject Pronoun Tener
Yo Tuve
Tú / Vos Tuviste
Él / Ella / Usted Tuvo
Nosotros Tuvimos
Vosotros Tuvisteis
Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes Tuvieron

 

First things first – no accent marks again! We love a verb with no accent marks

But there are a few key takeaways from the tener conjugation. 

  • It follows the same pattern as some other verbs in the preterite tense like andar and haber
  • Verbs that have tener as the stem follow the same pattern, as well. For example, words like mantener and contener will use the tener conjugation. 

It’s yo tuve with an E, but nosotros tuvimos with an I.

The Dar Preterite Tense can be one of the trickier irregular verb conjugations to learn in Spanish. We have a full guide on the subject that you don’t want to miss!

Like always, there are some strange patterns to the tener preterite conjugation. The good news is that with a little bit of practice, it shouldn’t take you long to master it. And the even better news is that there are so many ways to use the verb, you’ll absolutely get the chance to practice!

Past Subjunctive Mood

In case you’ve never noticed before, there’s a clear connection between the pretérito perfecto simple and the past subjunctive. Since the preterite and the subjunctive share a similar root, it’s always a good idea to try and learn both at the same time.

So let’s take the opportunity real quick to try and memorize the past subjunctive conjugation. Even if you aren’t comfortable knowing how to use this mood, you’ll be one step ahead if you work on the conjugation chart now. 

Subject Pronoun Tener
Yo Tuviera / Tuviese 
Tú / Vos Tuvieras / Tuvieses 
Él / Ella / Usted Tuviera / Tuviese 
Nosotros Tuviéramos / Tuviésemos  
Vosotros Tuvierais / Tuvieseis 
Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes Tuvieran / Tuviesen 

 

As you can see, there’s definitely a connection between the verb forms in the preterite and the past subjunctive. They share a similar root, and this will happen with all verbs. 

So if you ever need to practice learning difficult verbs in the preterite tense, it’s generally a good idea to check them out in the past subjunctive while you’re at it.

Both conjugations start with tuv, then add their appropriate endings. And the same pattern happens to almost every irregular verb, so keep that in mind as you continue to study your verb tenses. 

How to use Tener in the preterite tense

It’s time to move on to specific ways we can use the verb tener in the preterite tense. As a general description, you can consider tener to have three main meanings: to own, to need to do, and to experience.

Let’s look at some examples for each of those meanings in a bit more detail. 

Own

This is the most common usage of the verb tener. It’s also the one that’s the easiest for English speakers. You can use tener to mean that you own something. In this sense, we would normally conjugate tener and have it followed by a noun. 

  • Ayer no tuve tiempo para acabar la tarea. – Yesterday I didn’t have time to finish my work.
  • La película de Marvel tuvo mucho éxito. – The marvel movie was very successful.
  • Mi abuela tuvo cuatro hijos. – My grandmother had four kids.
  • Mis padres tuvieron un Volkswagen hasta que se compraron un Audi. – My parents had a Volkswagen until they bought an Audi.  

So this usage of the Spanish verb is pretty simple and can be used just like in English in most cases. However, there are some specific differences. 

For example, you can often use a noun instead of an adjective. We would say tener éxito, rather than ser exitoso. We’ll see more examples of structures like that in a minute. 

Need to do 

The next way to use this verb is very simple. We can use it as part of a perífrasis verbal. In other words, it’s a verb that always goes with another verb to have a specific meaning. We use “to have to” the same way in English, so this one should come pretty naturally to you. 

Check out these examples:

  • tuviste que asistir al congreso el mes pasado, ¿no? – You had to attend the conference last month, right?
  • Ayer tuve que ir en bici porque el metro no funcionaba. – Yesterday I had to go by bike because the metro wasn’t working.

As you can see for each of these examples, you’ll always have tener que plus another verb. 

See, things aren’t always so difficult!

“Ayer tuve que ir en bici porque el metro no funcionaba.” Image by Eduardo Rodriguez via Unsplash

Experience

This last major usage of the Spanish verb tener is a bit difficult for English speakers sometimes. In this context, we use tener to talk about experiences. That can be things like thirst, hunger, sleepiness, hurry, etc. 

In other words, most of the time in English we would say “I was X-adjective”. But in Spanish, the structure tends to be “tener X-noun”. So “To be thirsty” would change to “Tener sed”.

  • Tuvimos mucha hambre todo el día ayer. – We were hungry the whole day yesterday.
  • María tuvo celos de su hermana hasta los 6 años. – María was jealous of her sister until she was 6.

Expressions with the verb tener

Finally, besides the main three ways to use the verb tener that we just talked about, there are plenty of ways you can use this irregular verb. Many of the expressions aren’t commonly used in the preterite tense, but they’re important to know regardless. 

Some of these you might be able to squeeze into the other categories – but it might be a good idea to point them out separately, just in case:

Tener razón

To be right 

  • Mi madre tenía razón, debería de haber aprendido a cocinar antes de independizarme. – My mom was right, I should have learned to cook before moving out.

When you’re talking about the past, you’ll almost always use this expression in the imperfect tense.

Tener en cuenta

To keep in mind

  • No tuve en cuenta la distancia y me golpeé. – I didn’t keep the distance in mind and I hit myself.

Tener años 

To be X years old

Tiene 25 años. – He’s 25 years old.

This one might seem basic – but it never hurts to review past topics!

Tener calor / frío 

To be hot / cold

  • No me gusta el invierno, siempre tengo mucho frío. – I don’t like winter, I’m always really cold. 

¡Ya lo tienes!

That’s all for today! You managed to get through another irregular verb. You can finally say you’ve mastered tener in the preterite tense, ¡bien hecho!

Image by Prateek Katyal via Unsplash

Now’s the time to really nail it by practicing it in conversation. So go ahead and sign up for a free private class or a 7-day free trial of our group classes to practice what you learned!

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