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Recently there was a question that incidentally included an ungrammatical example: “¿Puedo tener un vaso de agua?”, obviously a literal translation from English “¿May I have a glass of water?”. This wasn't the subject of the question but I think it would be useful to clarify the matter.

So: how would you properly express, in Spanish, the request “to have (a drink, a bite, a piece of something)”?

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Replying to my own question, a couple of points:

  1. Tener is not used in the same way as English to have when it means "to receive" (an item) or "to consume" (a drink, a bite of something).
  2. Tener cannot be used to ask for something as in the English formula Can I have...? Neither can recibir "to receive, to get, to obtain".

The Spanish structure used to ask for an item (to keep, use or consume) usually involves the verb dar "to give". That is, it involves the giver as well as the receiver:

¿Me darías un vaso de agua?

which literally means: "Would you give me a glass of water?", although more naturally you would say, "May I have a glass of water?".

Instead of dar there are several verbs involving taking an object and passing it to someone, such as pasar, alcanzar, etc.

¿Me pasarías ese informe?
(lit.: "Would you pass me that report?", also "Can I have that report?")

The verb can be used in the indicative mood, or in the conditional mood (as in my examples) for a softer, indirect approach, or combined with poder (even more indirect):

¿Me podrías alcanzar aquel libro?
"Could you (reach out and) pass me that book?"

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  • interesantemente, si puede funcionar como tener con, "puedes tenerlo listo para mañana", cuando el "have", el problema es que el "tener" en español no se puede utilizar para pedir que algo sea "transferido o otorgado" pero si "obtenido". en esos casos se debe utilizar "pasar", "querer" , "dar", etc. para realizar la peticion. – Mike Sep 11 '18 at 16:06
  • Sí, pero ocurre además que “tener (algo) hecho” es una frase idiomática. No indica tanto “tener/poseer/obtener algo” sino más bien “haber hecho algo”. – pablodf76 Sep 11 '18 at 16:36
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In this case, the best translation is "tomar"

¿Puedo tomar un vaso de agua?

You can check from DRAE that it hyas 39 meanings, and one of them is this one.

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I think the crux of the matter is to learn which verbs are used to talk about eating and drinking.

In English, when we eat or drink something, we use "to have." Some examples:

Could we have chicken soup for lunch?

I'd like to have lunch before I hit the road.

In France people usually have a glass of wine with dinner.

In Spanish, in all these cases, have doesn't work. Here are the three examples, expressed idiomatically in Spanish:

¿Podríamos tomar caldo de pollo hoy al mediodía?

Me gustaría comer antes de lanzarme.

En Francia suelen tomar un vaso de vino con la cena.

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  • ¿Puedo tomar un vaso de agua?
  • ¿Puedo tomar agua?
  • ¿Puedo tomar algo de agua?

¿Puedo tener un vaso de agua? sounds like you are asking for confirmation whether you are capable or not of doing so. This does not mean you're thirsty and want some water.

This may be correct in formal Spanish: ¿Puedo tomar un vaso de agua?

Hope this was helpful.

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  • Welcome to the site, Kevin. Hope you'll find other questions here that you find interesting. // Tip: take a look at English Language Learners StackExchange. Look around to see if someone has already asked something similar to what you're wondering about. – aparente001 Apr 14 '18 at 2:31
  • Kevin, en ligar de simplemente dar un par de soluciones o posibilidades deberías explicar el por qué de tus respuestas. No se trata de corregir a alguien, si no de enseñar y por tanto conviene explicar y razonar un poco el por qué esas frases son las correctas. – Diego Apr 14 '18 at 3:32
  • You said "tener" would be understood as if you're capable or not. I'd say it rather means "if you can own a glass of water", as "to have" also means that. – FGSUZ Apr 14 '18 at 13:31
  • @FGSUZ - I think Kevin was referring to the auxiliary verb, puedo, when he spoke of whether the speaker is capable or not. – aparente001 Apr 15 '18 at 1:26
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In Mexican Spanish, the most frequently used, colloquial manner that I've heard of asking someone for something in this way would be:

¿Me regalas un vaso de agua?

That would be translated the same, "can/may I have a glass of water?" Same as using "darías" except that here it is very common to use the present tense, and since Mexicans are crazy polite, instead of directly saying "give" you're basically saying "gift" .. Would you gift me a glass of water? The meaning is identical, just very soft in word choice.

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