Viernes de Vocabulario: Temporary States and the Verb Tener

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Here at ICO, we hope that you’ll learn just how much fun Spanish can be.  Like any language, Spanish is full of colorful slang expressions.  On Fridays, we’ll be teaching you a combination of useful everyday words and fun common colloquialisms.

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As an English speaker, you’re used to talking about temporary states using the verb to be.  You can be hungry, be thirsty, be sleepy, be hot, be cold be in a hurry, be right, be afraid, be jealous, and all kinds of other short-term feelings.  In Spanish, however, you can’t be any of these things – you have them instead.


tener hambre / sed                    to be hungry / thirsty

The most common way to say that you are hungry or thirsty is to say, literally, that you have hunger or thirst.  No tengo hambre, es que tengo sed.  I’m not hungry, the thing is I’m thirsty.  If you’re really, really, really hungry, you can say tengo un hambre enorme, tengo un hambre terrible, tengo un hambre tremenda, or even just plain old tengo un hambre to indicate the sheer hugeness of your hunger.

tener sueño                                to be sleepy

Once again, you can’t be sleepy.  You can only have sleep.  Much like tengo un hambre, you can say tengo un sueño to suggest that you are incredibly sleepy.  (Tengo un sueño could also mean, “I have a dream” a la Martin Luther King, but you’ll have to rely on context for this one.)

tener calor / frío                         to be hot / cold

This one is trickier because of the potential for misunderstanding.  When you feel hot, tienes calor.  When you feel cold, tienes frío.  Once again, tener un frío and tener un calor suggest that you are really exceptionally warm or cold.

What is dangerous is that these words can be used with ser and estar, but their meaning is quite different.  If you say, soy frío, you are implying that you are a cold-blooded person who has no feelings whatsoever.  If a person es caliente, they are sexy.  Even more dangerous is to say estoy caliente, which suggests that you are currently “in the mood.”  Estoy frío, meanwhile, implies the exact opposite – you’re feeling cool and uninterested.  (¡Ten cuidado! Be careful!)

tener celos                                  to be jealous

Jealousy, much like these other short-term states, is something you have.  But watch out: in English, we conflate jealous and envious.  In Spanish, if tienes celos, it means you are feeling possessive of someone’s time and energy; if you simply want to have the stuff that someone else has, you are feeling a different emotion, envidia.

tener flojera                                 to be lazy
tener prisa                                   to be in a hurry
tener asco                                   to be disgusted
tener pena / vergüenza              to be ashamed or embarrassed
tener lástima (a algo / alguien)  to be sorry (for someone or something)
tener cuidado (con algo)            to be careful (with something)
tener la culpa (de algo)              to be guilty (of something)
tener razón                                  to be right
tener éxito                                   to be successful

A whole bunch more, similar to those above.  If you’re following me, congratulations – ya tienes éxito.  If you’re finding this confusing, tienes toda la razón (you’re absolutely right), because tengo la culpa (it’s my fault).  In fact, tengo mucha pena (I’m very embarrassed) that I hae presented so much information all at once.

tener (#) años                              to be a certain age

While this one may seem different from the others, in reality the principle is the same.  Your age isn’t a permanent trait.  Today, tengo 28 años (I’m 28), but just last week, tenía sólo 27 (I was only 27).

Anyway, we English speakers think of age as a mood all the time.  Haven’t you ever heard that you’re only as old as you feel?

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