I am learning Spanish following the Michel Thomas Method. It lists the following can be used for the verb "Have": 'tengo', 'tengo que', 'tener', 'tenerlo'.

How do I know when to use the right word?

As I understand it, it's probably like this:

  • Tengo = Have (e.g. Own)
  • Tengo que = Have to (e.g. Must)
  • Tener = to have (e.g. ? - How is this different from 'tengo'?)
  • Tenerlo = to have it (again, how is this different from 'lo tengo'?)

What's the best way to remember it/understand it?


2 Answers 2

  • Tengo = I have (you could think of it as "I posses something" although the meaning is wider than that)

Tengo un tractor amarillo

  • Tengo que = I have to

Tengo que ir al médico

Tengo que terminar este informe para las 5

Both come from the verb tener (and here the conjugations). Realize that even if Have means "Tengo" (and has means "tiene") it can also mean "tenemos", "tenéis" and "tienen". And that could change with the verb tense, so "have" has a broader meaning than just "tengo" and "tener". I would stick to "Have means Tener".

"Tenerlo" and "lo tengo" are the same thing. You could favor one over the other for stylistic reasons in a given sentence, but the meaning is the same. The only difference between the two is the conjugation of the verb.


As you say,

  • Tengo = I have
  • Tengo que = I have to

But I see you have some confusion regarding the last two. I'll try to clarify them.

First of all, you must understand the difference between "infinitive" and "personal tenses". The infinitive is the "name" of the verb.

  • Tener = To have, like "the action of having something"

This is a non-personal form, it's the name of the verb, it's generic. Personal forms appear when you use it with subjects (it's the same in English).

Yo tengo = I have

Tú tienes = you have

Él /ella tiene =He/She has

Nosotros tenemos = We have

Vosotros tenéis = You (all) have

Ellos tienen = They have.

So, on the one hand is the verb's name, and on the other hand there's how we use it with subjects.

As you know, subjects can be omitted in Spanish, as there is only one possibility. In English, "have" can be "you have" or "they have" or "we have", so you must clarify. In Spanish, each subject has its word, so there's no need to specify.

So, after this, the usages are easy:

  • Tengo = I have
  • Tengo que = I have to

With any person:

  • Tienes = you have
  • Tienes que = you have to

Just that.

Finally, "lo" is a pronoun that, roughly speaking, means "it".


  • Lo tengo = I have IT.
  • Lo tienes = you have IT.
  • Lo tiene = He/she has IT.

and so on.

However, "tener" is the name of the verb, so "tenerlo" means "to have it", or "the action of having it". The key is that "name of the verb" is not the same as "personal forms" (forms the verb adopts when used with subjects).

It's the same as English. Another example: to be. Name of the verb: "to be" (ser), but its personal forms are "I am, you are, he is...)".

I hope it's clearer now.

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