In Tomás Rivera's novel ...y no se lo tragó la Tierra, I noticed the following sentence:

Ya le tengo prometido [sic] a la Virgen de San Juan una visita...

Could this be a mistake? I would have expected "Ya le he prometido".

In all examples of "tengo prometido" I've been able to find online, it means "I have a fiance" instead of "I have promised".

Are there cases where it's grammatically correct or preferable to use "tener + participle" instead of "haber + participle"?

  • 2
    Please check if the accepted answer to the question I've linked above replies to this question. Note however that there's a mistake in your quote (either you made it when copying it, or it was in the original): it should be Ya le tengo prometida a la Virgen.... This goes to the heart of the matter, actually, because the grammatical difference between the two usages hinges on what you do with the participle.
    – pablodf76
    Oct 6 '19 at 22:32
  • Also check this answer for extra info on the matter of verbs that are followed by participles in a similar way: spanish.stackexchange.com/questions/17861/…
    – pablodf76
    Oct 6 '19 at 22:34
  • It's kind of like I've got a visit lined up. Oct 7 '19 at 4:20
  • 1
    I think this case is a bit different, and tengo prometido is not a mistake. It uses the same construction as in Portuguese, where composite tenses are constructed with the verb ter (equivalent to Spanish tener). I cannot write a full answer because I don't really know if this is Portuguese influence or this construction has actually been used in Spanish in the past. Or something else.
    – Gorpik
    Oct 8 '19 at 15:16
  • @Gorpik - That is interesting. I hope someone will tell us more about this. Oct 8 '19 at 19:11

No, Andy, it is not a mistake. It is very idiomatic.

Here are some examples I made up:

  • Ya le tengo declarada al juez mi inocencia. [the le is optional]
  • Ya tengo hecha la comida para mañana.
  • ¿ Tienes dicho todo lo que tenías que decir ?
  • ¿ Tienes acorralados los caballos?

The idiom is, as defined by the RAE is:

tr. U. como auxiliar con participio conjugado, haber1. Te tengo dicho que no salgas.

Please note: the past participle must agree in gender and number with the object.

But the translation into English for both ways of saying these sentences with or without the tener option is the same in English:

  • Ya le tengo prometido a la Virgen de San Juan una visita.

  • Ya le he prometido a la Virgen de San Juan que le haría una visita.

Both are: I have promised the Virgen of San Juan that I would visit her.

So, Te he dicho que no salgas. and Te tengo dicho que no salgas. are both: I have told you not to go out.

Notice how pretty it is in Spanish, said the first way and how much longer it is the second. That doesn't make the second one wrong but it sounds "less" Spanish to my ear. How else can I say it? :) These are the joys of Spanish and there are more of them the more one gets into the language.

More info in RAE: tener + participio conjugado

  • 2
    I'd only add that the pattern with "tener" sounds more colloquial and has a possessive connotation which the form with "haber" lacks. By the way, of the four sentences you made up I definitely prefer the second and the fourth one. The other two sound a bit off to me.
    – Gustavson
    Oct 6 '19 at 23:05
  • I would like my answer to stay as is. Thanks aparente for the feminine form.
    – Lambie
    Oct 7 '19 at 15:03
  • Okay so what you mean is "tengo" actually applies to "visita" in this example instead of being an auxiliary verb?
    – Andy
    Oct 7 '19 at 19:27
  • And it's grammatically incorrect to say "Ya le he prometido a la Virgen de San Juan una visita"?
    – Andy
    Oct 7 '19 at 19:27
  • @Andy - that sentence is fine. It's just a little different from the other one. "Ya le he prometido" is I've already promised the Virgin a visit. Whereas "Ya le tengo prometida a la Virgen de San Juan una visita" is I've already got a visit lined up to the Virgin. Note also that prometido is a past participle of prometer and also there is a noun, prometido/prometida, which is the noun betrothed, e.g.: A party was held for the princess to introduce her betrothed to the court. (In Spanish the word is not as quaint as in English.) Oct 8 '19 at 6:32

The structure "tener + algo/a alguien + participio pasado" or "tener + participio pasado + algo/a alguien" is similar but not identical in meaning to the perfect tenses of transitive verbs, formed by "haber + participio pasado".

As already mentioned, the past participle agrees in gender and number with the direct object in the pattern with "tener", but remains invariable in the verb phrases with "haber":

  • El hombre tiene amenazadas a las mujeres.
  • El hombre ha amenazado a las mujeres. (The man has threatened the women.)

From a semantic point of view, I can see at least three main differences:

1) "tener + past participle" carries a meaning of permanence, which is absent or not so strong in "haber + past participle":

  • Le tengo prometida a la Virgen de San Juan una visita. (I've made the Virgin a promise and the promise is still in force.)
  • Le he prometido a la Virgen de San Juan una visita pero no creo que pueda cumplirla. (I've made the Virgin a promise but I don't think I'll be able to keep it.)

2) "tener + past participle" carries a meaning of iteration, which is absent or not so strong in "haber + past participle":

  • Te tengo dicho que no salgas. (I've told you countless times to stay at home.)
  • Te he dicho que no salgas. (I've told you to stay at home.)

(1) and (2) above are ratified by the author of this page:

En esta perífrasis expresa una gradación perfectiva en la que el proceso no aparece como meramente concluido, sino también como extendido y relevantemente durativo, con énfasis en lo cuantitativo temporal. (The bolds are mine.)

as well as here:

  1. tener + participio. [...] A menudo la construcción con tener añade un matiz de reiteración o insistencia: «¡Le tengo dicho [= le he dicho muchas veces] que no me los deje subir al segundo piso, carajo!» (Gamboa Páginas [Col. 1998]).[...] (The bolds are mine.)

3) "tener + past participle" can be ambiguous when the past participle is postposed, just as "have sth done" can be ambiguous in English (this ambiguity does not apply to "haber + past participle"):

  • Tengo firmados los documentos (I have signed the documents: no ambiguity)
  • Tengo los documentos firmados (I have signed the documents, OR, more likely, I have the signed documents with me.)

In English, the ambiguity revolves around the possessive or causative meaning: I have the documents sealed and signed (I have the documents, which are sealed and signed, OR I see to it that the documents are sealed and signed.)

I also notice, as I said in a comment, that, where there is no apparent difference in meaning, the pattern with "tener" tends to be more colloquial and to carry a possessive connotation. A typical example would be that of:

  • Tengo hecha la comida.
  • He hecho la comida.

My point that the structure with "tener" tends to be more informal and to carry a possessive connotation is shared by other native speakers, like this online Spanish teacher:

Con «tener» + participio expresamos la consecución de un evento; por lo general, se conserva el significado literal de posesión. De forma coloquial, sobre todo con verbos de lengua, la acción es frecuentativa. (The bolds are mine.)

Finally, in this blog an interesting point is made in regard to the two structures, according to which the structure with "haber" merely points to an action while the one with "tener" points to the result, so much so that the participle is more like an adjective (actually, in the sentence above I borrowed from @Lambie, "Tengo la comida hecha" is equivalent to "Tengo la comida lista".)

He escrito el informe. [acción realizada en un tiempo pasado]

Tengo escrito el informe. [El informe ya está listo.]

He escrito las cartas. [acción realizada en un tiempo pasado]

Tengo escritas las cartas. [Las cartas ya están escritas.]

Hemos preparado la comida. [acción realizada en un tiempo pasado]

Tenemos preparada la comida. [La comida está preparada.]

Hemos preparado los bocadillos. [acción realizada en un tiempo pasado]

Tenemos preparados los bocadillos. [Los bocadillos están preparados.]

Han arreglado el coche. [acción realizada en un tiempo pasado]

Tienen arreglado el coche. [El coche está listo para ser usado.]

Han arreglado las ventanas. [acción realizada en un tiempo pasado]

Tienen arregladas las ventanas. [Las ventanas ya no están más rotas.]

Nota: En las frases con “haber” se usa el particípio del verbo principal (escrito, preparado, arreglado). En las frases con “tener” usamos adjetivos (escrito, escritas, preparada, preparados, arreglado, arregladas).

  • Just for your information, I checked all my examples with my husband who is a writer from Spain who writes in Spanish.
    – Lambie
    Oct 7 '19 at 15:04
  • @Lambie I didn't mean to upset you. I just stated my opinion, which seems to have been endorsed by at least two other users. Those two sentences are grammatical but do sound weird to my native ears.
    – Gustavson
    Oct 7 '19 at 15:12
  • You haven't upset me. What upsets me is the editing. I had one typo, which one person kindly fixed but another took my answer and put in all kinds of bolding etc. and I notice that person did nothing to your answer, which that person did not bother to edit like mine. If "Tengo dicho que no salgas" is ok, why wouldn't "Tengo declarado al juez mi inocencia" be alright? Finally, you have no references for saying one is more colloquial than the other. You gave my example, too: tengo hecha la comida.
    – Lambie
    Oct 7 '19 at 15:31
  • @Lambie I liked your example "Tengo hecha la comida" and merely tried to explain how slightly different I found it compared with "He hecho la comida". "Te tengo dicho que no salgas" sounds fine to me because the person receiving the order or recommendation is (or should be) under the effects of that statement. I can't see that in the other sentence with "declarar". "tener" seems to work finely with the past participle of "decir" but not with more formal verbs of speech like declarar, anunciar, confesar. I think the colloquial feature of the pattern with "tener" might be involved here.
    – Gustavson
    Oct 7 '19 at 15:50
  • @Lambie This, strangely, sounds fine to me, but notice the "colloquial" context, or perhaps the insistent confession: Le tengo declarado mi amor (I've declared my love many times). As for the lack of references to account for one pattern being more colloquial than the other, as you well know this is not sometimes accounted for in linguistic literature and can only be pointed out by users of the language.
    – Gustavson
    Oct 7 '19 at 15:54

I checked Google Books and the copy of the book that they scanned has the text exactly as you typed it up for us. I agree that it has a mistake -- it should be

Ya le tengo prometida a la Virgen de San Juan una visita.

This means I've already got a visit lined up to go see the Virgin.

So, what's going on with this tener + participle? Here's an example that lines up nicely between common usage in both languages:

I had a productive day. I've got three new meetings planned. | Fue un día productivo. Tengo tres nuevas reuniones planeadas.

Notice how the past participle has to agree in gender and number with the the noun. This is different from

Ya le he prometido a la Virgen de San Juan una visita. | I've already promised a visit to the Virgin.

In this latter sentence, we have the classic present perfect tense, and here there is no agreement. The past participle will never vary or agree with anything in this construction.

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