I just ran into the following example in a Spanish language grammar book:

Eso es Sr. Gómez, tiene casada una hija.

Does it make sense? I can understand tiene una hija casada or tiene una casada hija, both of which could mean ...has a married daughter if you ignore the difference in nuance between the two. But what could casada una hija possibly mean? Even if you want to say he has to get his daughter married off, you would go something like tiene que casar una hija.

I know Spanish is quite flexible when it comes to word order but this one just seems too bizarre to attribute to such flexibility. Any help?

  • 1
    Without context, I think that Tiene casada una hija could mean not just that one of his daughters is married but that he was instrumental in getting her married. Looks like a complicated example to be in a Grammar book, as it sounds somewhat archaic to me.
    – JMVanPelt
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 21:15
  • You're trying to reflect it with English, which would look like "had married a daughter". Think of it in these obfuscated words, "He has a married girl, a daughter".
    – dockeryZ
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 1:59

3 Answers 3


It is perfectly understandable. "Tiene casada una hija" is the same as "tiene una hija casada". But "tiene una casada hija" is wrong, it is still understandable but not correct.

Other examples:

Tiene roto un pie = Tiene un pie roto.

Tiene ponchado su balón = Tiene su balón ponchado.


Tiene rojo un auto != Tiene un auto rojo

in this case the first one is wrong, it is not understandable. And the second one is absolutely correct.

"He/she has a married daughter"

  • 2
    This is both very interesting to me and confusing. Can you explain why tiene casada una hija is correct, but tiene rojo un carro is not?
    – Wake
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 19:11
  • 2
    Honestly I am no pretty sure.... But notice that order can change and be correct at the same time, only when you are using a past participle as adjetive. Roto and Ponchado are past participle adjetives, in the other hand rojo is a non past participle adjetive. It may have something to do with the fact that "Tener + past participle" is often used in other grammatical constructions. Look at "tener" section of this web fis.ucalgary.ca/AVal/505/AGPerifrasisTerminativas.html Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 19:45
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    I don't think "Tiene casada una hija" is the same as "tiene una hija casada", although the difference is really subtle. "Tiene casada una hija" means that one of his daughters is married, while "tiene una hija casada" means he has a daughter who is married. I feel the second sentence would usually (but not necessarily) imply there's only one daughter, while the first one would sound more natural if there is more than one daughter, but only one of them is married.
    – Yay
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 22:34
  • 2
    Tiene rojo un auto is wrong because rojo is not a past participle, that's why.
    – dockeryZ
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 2:02
  • 1
    @dockeryZ But tiene rojos los ojos de tanto llorar sounds alright to me. The reason why tiene rojo un auto is wrong is that tiene in tiene un auto rojo doesn't tell you anything about the state of the car. If rojo were used metaphorically to express it is really hot after driving it for a long time under the sun, I think tiene rojo el coche would be okay.
    – Yay
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 19:55

I know Spanish is quite flexible when it comes to word order but this one just seems too bizarre to attribute to such flexibility.

The sentence is unquestionably grammatical, but I think you are right to be suspicious! I don't think it's word order flexibility; I think it's a different grammatical construction.

I think that a useful exercise would be to compare your example Spanish sentence to English examples like these:

  1. I sold the green apples
  2. I sold the apples green.

The second sentence is not a reordered rendering of the first, but rather it has a very different grammatical structure, and correspondingly its meaning is subtly different. This can be brought out by imagining what sort of question they'd be used to answer:

  1. ("Which apples did you sell?") I sold the green apples.
  2. ("How were the apples when you sold them?") I sold the apples green.

In the first example green is an attributive modifier in the noun phrase, which tells us a property of the apples that it refers to. In the second it's a verb phrase complement that specifies the state of the apples at the time of the sale. There's some sort of aspectual difference here; in the first green is being construed as an enduring property of the apples and in the second as a transient state thereof.

Now, I would offer the hypothesis that something very similar is going on in Spanish. In fact, my English example can be adapted easily:

  1. ("¿Cuáles manzanas vendiste?") Vendí las manzanas verdes.
  2. ("¿Cómo estaban las manzanas cuando las vendiste?") Vendí verdes las manzanas.

(Actually, though, vendí las manzanas verdes could have either grammatical structure, because of order flexibility; but vendí verdes las manzanas can only have the #2 style structure.)

Another noteworthy observation is that we can render the above answers more briefly and naturally like this:

  1. ("¿Cuáles manzanas vendiste?") Vendí las verdes.
  2. ("¿Cómo estaban las manzanas cuando las vendiste?") Las vendí verdes.

The las in these two sentences are of course completely different—the first one is an article, the second one an object pronoun. I think this highlights the grammatical difference—when we pronominalize the object of Vendí verdes las manzanas, verdes gets "left behind"—it's not part of the noun phrase las manzanas.

So if I'm right (which be warned, requires more work than this to prove!), tiene casada una hija is not a word order variant of tiene una hija casada, but rather a different grammatical structure. There might not be a really big difference in meaning in this one case, though.


It is true it isn't common to place an adjective before an article, but it isn't unheard of either, and it is certainly grammatical in some circumstances. In the following example, despejada modifies la frente, negros modifies los ojos, rojos modifies los labios, leche y rosas modifies la piel, and sonriente y tranquila modifies la expresión:

En el umbral se yergue Melibea, alta y ancha y lozana, despejada la frente, negros los ojos, rojos los labios, leche y rosas la piel, con un cuello en que se pelean y se casan la esbeltez y la fuerza, el pecho firme y separado, sonriente y tranquila la expresión.

Maeztu, Ramiro de (1926). Don Quijote, Don Juan y la Celestina. Ensayos en simpatía.

Your example is slightly different in that depending on how you arrange the noun phrase una hija and the participle casada, the parsing is different:

Tenía [una hija casada].
[Tenía casada] una hija.

Tener + participle is a verbal periphrasis with several meanings. You can read about it on the Nueva gramática, §28.16l-p (only in Spanish). Verbal periphrasis are mostly used to add nuances to the main verb, including the speaker's attitude towards the action or its degree of development (the action has just started, ended, etc). The periphrasis tener + participle is quite versatile and can add a lot of different nuances depending on the context. A few of them are:

  • An action that has been brought to completion:

    El labriego tenía arado el bancal (the farmer had [already] plowed the patch).

  • An action that happens or happened frequently in the past:

    Lo tengo recorrido diez o doce veces (I've gone down [that path/road] ten or twelve times)

  • An action that is in a state of permanence:

    Tengo el piso alquilado (I have [my] flat rented out)

  • An action that is related to the idea of possession or physical contact:

    Quart tenía apoyada una mano sobre el arco de entrada (Quart was resting his hand on the entrance arch).

  • To express some kind of restrain:

    Me tenían atrapado (they had me trapped).

  • To express coercion, control or imposition:

    Lo tenemos controlado (we have it under control).

  • With verbs of storing, gathering or conservation:

    Tenía acumulado mucho poder (he/she had amassed a lot of power).

  • To express reiteration or insistence:

    Te tengo dicho que no lo hagas (I told you not to do it [many times]).

Even considering all these meanings, there are still examples that don't quite fit in any of the previous cases. Tenía casada un hija may be related to the idea of possession or permanence, depending on the context.

  • Quoting the Gramática is certainly worth our while, but I'm unconvinced by their analysis, because I question whether it's really specific to tener or participles. I'm thinking of sentences like La vendí verde (referring to an unripe apple), where clearly it's referring to the transitory state of the fruit at the time of the event. In fact, the examples you cite seem to fit this analysis—they're about state at the time of the event described by the sentence. Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 20:50
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    @LuisCasillas RAE does mention it is a conflictive classification. I still agree with the interpretation of a periphrasis because if you consider the participle as some kind of modifier, it should be replaceable with así or some other adverb. You can indeed say La vendí así with the same grammatical structure as la vendí verde, but I don't think you can say lo tengo así for lo tengo recorrido or te lo tengo así for te lo tengo dicho. But then again, me tenían atrapado seems to have the same structure as me tienes loco, so both interpretations make sense to me.
    – Yay
    Commented Aug 21, 2016 at 11:47
  • @LuisCasillas Anyway, great analysis so +1. Nothing to object against it!
    – Yay
    Commented Aug 21, 2016 at 11:51

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