“Be” or “Have”?

Shana Goodwin, January 17, 2022

Which one is correct: “I have twenty-four years” or “I am twenty-four”?

Native Spanish speakers who are learning English often confuse the verbs “be” and “have” when talking about age. This is because in Spanish, the verb “tener” (to have) is used (“tengo veinticuatro años”), so it’s natural to simply translate this into “I have twenty-four years.” Unfortunately, however, this is incorrect. In English, the verb “be” (ser/estar) is used when talking about age: “I am twenty-four.”

Below is a partial list of other instances where “tener” (to have) is used in Spanish but “ser/estar” (to be) is used in English.

  • Tener hambre/sed – to be hungry/thirsty
  • Tener sueño – to be tired
  • Tener miedo – to be afraid
  • Tener verguenza – to be ashamed
  • Tener razón – to be right
  • Tener cuidado – to be careful
  • Tener suerte – to be lucky
  • Tener frío – to be cold
  • Tener calor – to be hot
  • Tener celos – to be jealous
  • Tener la culpa – to be guilty
  • Tener éxito – to be successful
  • Tener prisa – to be in a hurry
  • Tener valor – to be brave

There are several instances in which “tener” (to have) is used in both Spanish and English. Some examples include:

  • Tener paciencia – to have patience
  • Tener fiebre – to have a fever
  • Tener tos – to have a cough
  • Tener confianza – to have confidence

And of course there are other phrases in which other verbs are used. For example, when talking about aches and pains in English, we often use the verb “to have” (tener), but these phrases sometimes don’t translate directly into Spanish. For example, in English we would say, “I have a headache” but in Spanish we’d most likely say, “Me duele la cabeza.”

Some other examples follow:

  • Tener ganas de – to want
  • Tener lástima – to feel compassion
  • Tener lugar – to take place/to occur
  • Tener en cuenta – to consider
  • Tener presente – to remember

Photograph by Luca Upper.