Understanding the difference between haber and tener is a very important step in the Spanish learning process. Today, El Rincón del Tándem Spanish school provides you with a short explanation to help you use those verbs correctly. 🙂

The difference between the Spanish verbs haber and tener is a very important topic for all the students of the Spanish course.

The main reason why most people use them mistakenly is due to the fact that in their own language, haber and tener are translated the same way. Or better say, unlike Spanish, some other languages have just one verb to express both meanings.

First of all, the verb haber is mainly used as an auxiliary verb, that is to form Spanish compound tense.
Instead, the main meaning of tener is owning, possessing.

Nevertheless, there are situation in which both verbs can have similar uses.

So, in order not to be wrong, let’ analyse together when and how to use those verbs.

Uses of HABER

1. As mentioned above, haber is used as an auxiliary verb to form Spanish compound tenses. In compound tenses the participle that follows haber (in its conjugated form) is invariable. That means, there is no gender or number agreement.

Let’s see some examples:

He preparado una tarta = I have made a pie

Hemos leído el periódico esta mañana = We have read the newspaper this morning

En dos años Ana habrá obtenido su diploma = Within two years, Ana will have obtained the diploma

2. You will also often come across for the verb haber as an impersonal verb.

In this case, it expresses existence and its equivalent in English would be “there is/there are” (present indicative), “there will be” (future simple), “there was/there were” (past simple) etc.

When used as an impersonal verb, haber only occurs in 3rd person singular form, even in cases in which it refers to a plural name.
Also, sentences like these does not contain any subject or personal pronoun.


Hay mucha gente en la plaza = There are many people in the square

Hubo un aluvión el mes pasado = Last month there was a flood

Habrá conciertos en el parque central este verano = This summer there will be concerts in the central park

3. Finally, verb haber is very commonly used to express obligation or necessity. In this case, we use the verbal periphrasis HAY/HABRÁ QUE.

Like the previous situation, the verb haber occurs as impersonal (only in 3rd person singular form). Hence, the subject that should to the action is not expressed.

QUE precedes the action that must be done or that is necessary to perform.


Hay que cambiar la rueda de la bicicleta = It is necessary to change the Wheel of the bike

Hay que respetar la norma de convivencia social = Rules of social coexistence must be respected.

Uses of TENER

4. As mentioned above, tener is most commonly used to express possession and ownership. In this case, the verb is followed by a direct complement, referring to the object/thing we own.


Tengo una gata = I have a cat

Mi abuela tiene muchas plantas en su piso = My grandmother has many plants in her flat.

5. We can also use it TENER to express ownership in a figurative meaning or to express emotions, physical states and characteristics, age, etc.


Pilar tiene 30 años = Pilar is 30 years old

Tengo hambre y sed = I am hungry and thirsty

Gabriela tiene miedo a las alturas = Gabriela has fear of heights

Miriam tiene los ojos verdes = Miriam has green eyes

6. Like haber, also the verb tener can be used to talk about an obligation. However, when we use verb periphrasis with tener, the verb does not occur in the impersonal form as in the case of haber.

Therefore, it is clear who the subject that has to perform the action is.


Tengo que ir a Correos antes de las 19.00 = I have to go to the post office before 7 p.m.

Tendremos que comprar un sofá nuevo = We will have to buy a new sofa

7. Finally, there is a very specific and not so common situation where the verb tener can be used as an auxiliary verb.

When it happens, the speaker usually tends to highlight that the action he/she is referring to is being done repeatedly or to express annoyance. Let’s see the example below:

Te tengo dicho que no le grites a tu hermana = I am repeatedly telling you not to shout at your sister

In some cases, it tends to express a situation or action that it still on-going or not completed yet.

Tengo entendido que habrá una huelga = it is my understanding that there will be a strike.

As usual, we hope that this blog help you master the use of the Spanish verbs haber and tener.

If you want to learn Spanish from scratch or improve your level, El Rincón del Tándem will help you learn the language while having fun 😉

See you soon!