In Spanish, the verb tener means to have, having taken over the older verb haber which is now almost exclusively used for the perfect aspect. Unfortunately, there is no English equivalent for tener, although there might be a possible answer down that route.

Haber also means, as shown below, to have, but don't let this cognate confuse you, etymologically these verbs are not connected, having come from different PIE roots.

tener (Verb) "to have"
10th cent. From Latine tenere "to hold." From Proto-Italic *t(e)nē- "to snare," a stative verb formed from Proto-Indo-European *tn-eh1- 'id.,' from *ten- "to stretch."

Indo-European: Celtic: Middle Welsh tannu "to spread out," Middle Cornish tan "take!" Germanic: Gothic ufþanjan "to extend," Old Norse þenja "to stretch," Old High German dennan 'id.,' Old Saxon thenian 'id.,' Old English þennan 'id.;


haber (Verb) "to have"
12th cent. Old Spanish aver. From Latin habere "to have," "to hold." From Proto-Italic *χab-ē 'id.' From Proto-Indo-European *ghh1b-(e)i̯- 'id.' The phonology of this word is exceptional as the presence of *b was rare in Proto-Indo-European.

The spelling change from aver to haber was a modern modification to more closely reflect the original Latin.


This was spurred by my noticing that in words like maintain - mantener and obtain - obtener there appears to be a link between the verb 'tener' and perhaps an English equivalent of tain I looked at the etymology of tener for any link to English but could find no answer.
Wiktionary reveals the Latin precursor to tener to be tenere. Tenere is also the ancestor of several English words - tenet, tenor, tenure. Unfortunately none of these include any link to to have

Of course, I'm not looking for a replacement for tener in normal use, nonetheless; is there an Spanish cognate of a English term that also has a linking etymology?

(I have a suggestion and have posted it below, please improve it or post your own answer)

  • What exactly do you mean by: there is no English equivalent for tener? Generally speaking, in going from one language to another, the term used is equivalence of meaning. In any case, in layman's term tener algo is to have something. Also, one has to be careful with directionality in these matters....
    – Lambie
    Apr 19, 2018 at 21:01
  • 1
    Also, what is etymological backing? Well, there's always possess/poseer/as in possession which also means "have".
    – Lambie
    Apr 19, 2018 at 21:07

2 Answers 2


As is mentioned in the question, haber is a cognate of have but does not have the same etymological backing.

have (v.)
Old English habban "to own, possess; be subject to, experience," from Proto-Germanic *haben- (source also of Old Norse hafa, Old Saxon hebbjan, Old Frisian habba, German haben, Gothic haban "to have"), from PIE root *kap- "to grasp" (see capable). Not related to Latin habere, despite similarity in form and sense; the Latin cognate is capere "seize.


Seeing this final line, I investigated a Latin connection and found the verb caber. It has two meanings that could be appropriate to the question at hand:

(transitive) to be held or contained; to be capable of being contained (in something) (transitive) to have, hold

From Proto-Italic *kapiō, from Proto-Indo-European *kh₂pyéti, from the root *keh₂p- ‎(“to seize, grab”).

Cognate with Breton kavout, English have, heave, Lithuanian kàmpt, Albanian kap, Ancient Greek κάπτω ‎(káptō).


To me, this seems like a good solution to the problem, bar the fact that they have slightly different meanings.
Nevertheless, caber fits the bill quite well.


English have descends from Proto-Indoeuropean *kap- (alternatively *kh₂p-, as the PIE laryngeal *h₂ is usually taken to vocalize as a central vowel), as described. It appears that Latin capere (> Spanish caber) ultimately comes from that PIE root too, but do note that the Proto-Italic stem *kap-i- is marked as "of unknown origin".

The Spanish word capaz "capable" and all its derivatives comes from Latin capere. A couple of interesting cognates with a clear relationship to the meaning of English have, derived from this same root, are capturar "to capture, to catch, to take", and the suffix -cipe in partícipe "one who takes part (in sthg.), one who participates".

As for tener, it is also indeed cognate with the -tain in obtain, abstain, sustain as well as pretend and intend and everything related to tense, but these are not regular descendents from PIE through Proto-Germanic to English; they are instead all later borrowings into English, usually from French or directly from Latin.

It seems that the one English cognate of Spanish tener that comes directly from PIE (i.e., that is not a French or Latin borrowing) is thin (Old English þynne).

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