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Haber Vs Tener: A Quick Guide to Understanding Haber and Tener

Today’s topic is haber vs. tener. Both words can be translated as have in English. Then, what’s the difference between haber and tener? The answer is easier than you think. Let’s see!

Difference Between Haber and Tener

In Spanish, haber is used as an auxiliary verb. It is used to form all Spanish compound tenses. On the other hand, tener is used as a main verb. It means to own or possess.

Different Uses of Haber

The verb haber is not only used as an auxiliary verb in Spanish, but it is also used as an impersonal verb. Let’s find out more about haber.

Use Haber to Express Existence

When haber is used to express existence, it means there is or there are in English. Be careful with this verb! You can only use it in singular forms when you use it to express existence.

  • Había un perro en la casa.
    (There was a dog in the house.)
  • Había muchos perros en la casa.
    (There were many dogs in the house.)

You can use haber to express existence in the past, present and future. These are the most common forms of haber!

  • hay – there is/are
  • había – there was/were
  • hubo – there was/were
  • habrá – there will be
  • habría  there would be
  • ha habido – there has been

Can you create some examples with the verb forms above? You’ll find some positive and negative sentences with haber below.

  • Hay un libro en la mesa.
    (There is a book on the table.)
  • No hay ningún libro en la mesa.
    (There are no books on the table.)
  • Hay hojas en el suelo.
    (There are leaves on the ground.)
  • No hay hojas en el suelo.
    (There are no leaves on the ground.)
  • Hubo un accidente en la carretera.
    (There was an accident on the road.)
  • No hubo ningún accidente en la carretera.
    (There were no accidents on the road.)
  • Hubo muchas personas en la fiesta.
    (There were many people at the party.)
  • No hubo muchas personas en la fiesta.
    (There were not many people at the party.)

Use Haber to Form Compound Spanish Tenses

Haber is also used to form Spanish compound tenses. When it is used to form compound tenses, it is equivalent to the auxiliary verb to have in English, and it is always followed by past participles (words that end in “ado” or “ido”). Let’s see some examples!

  • Yo he estado allí.
    (I have been there.)
  • Él ha vivido en Canadá por muchos años.
    (He has lived in Canada for many years.)
  • Nosotros hemos sido amigos desde 1995.
    (We have been friends since 1995.)

According to the Fundéu BBVA, a non-profit organization that promotes the good use of the Spanish language in all media, haber is the most important Spanish auxiliary verb, so don’t forget to check out its conjugation if you don’t know it yet. 


Different Uses of Tener

In Spanish, tener is used to express possession. Tener also appears in many Spanish expressions. Let’s see!

Use Tener to Express Possession

In Spanish, tener is a main verb. It means to have in English, and you can use it to indicate possession.

  • Yo tengo una casa.
    (I have a house.)
  • Él tiene un carro.
    (He has a car.)
  • Éllos tienen dinero.
    (They have money.)

Use Tener to Express Age

In Spanish, tener is used to express age. Never use ser to express age in Spanish.

  • ¿Cuántos años tienes?
    (How old are you?)
  • Yo tengo 25 años.
    (I am 25 years old.)

Use Tener to Express Obligation

Use tener and the Spanish preposition que preceded by an infinitive to express obligation in Spanish.

  • ¡Tienes que hacer tus tareas!
    (You have to do your homework!)
  • ¡Tienen que limpiar la casa!
    (You have to clean the house!)
  • ¡Tenéis que cocinar ahora!
    (You have to cook today!)

Use Tener in Idiomatic Expressions

Tener appears in many Spanish phrases that express feelings, emotions or sensations. To learn more, read this article about Spanish expressions with tener. Let’s see!

  • tener calor – to be hot
  • tener frío – to be cold
  • tener celos – to be jealous
  • tener cuidado – to be careful
  • tener hambre – to be hungry
  • tener miedo – to be scared
  • tener razón – to be right
  • tener sed  to be thirsty
  • tener sueño – to be sleepy
  • tener suerte – to be lucky
  • tener ganas de – to feel like

Haber and Tener Practice

Ready for some haber vs tener practice? Here’s a warm-up:

1. ¿Cuántos años __________ ?

  • hay
  • tienes
  • hubo
  • hemos

2. Ayer  __________ dos carros en la cochera.

  • tengo
  • tienes
  • hay
  • había

3. Yo  __________ sido secretaria por varios años.

  • he
  • hemos
  • hay
  • tengo

4. Ellos  __________ muchas cosas en el coche.

  • tengo
  • habían
  • tienen
  • hay

5. Nosotros  __________ mucho sueño.

  • tenemos
  • tengo
  • hay
  • habían

Answers: 1. tienes; 2. había; 3. he; 4. tienen; 5. tenemos

For more practice, check out Clozemaster, which will not only help you master the different uses of tener and haber, but also teach you its different verb forms! 


Learn More About Haber and Tener

Now you know how to use haber and tener in Spanish. Don’t forget to check the conjugations of haber and tener in Spanish, as they are two of the most used Spanish verbs!


Challenge yourself with Clozemaster

Test your skills and see what you’ve learned from this article by playing a selection of sentences with the Spanish verbs haber and tener:

Sign up here to save your progress and start getting fluent with thousands of Spanish sentences at Clozemaster.

Clozemaster has been designed to help you learn the language in context by filling in the gaps in authentic sentences. With features such as Grammar Challenges, Cloze-Listening, and Cloze-Reading, the app will let you emphasize all the competencies necessary to become fluent in Spanish.

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