Tener que: Expressing obligation in Spanish
Hay que and tener que are expressions Spanish speakers use to communicate obligation, necessity, commitment, or to give instructions. Tener que and hay que in English can both be translated as to have to or to need to.
Tener que is our first expression for stating obligation in Spanish, translating best as “to have to” in English.
Just like the English expression which is built on the verb “to have,” tener que is built on the Spanish verb “tener,” which translates directly as “to have” in Spanish.
Similarly to the English version, we also follow tener que with another verb in its infinitive form to say that we have to do that action. In other words, the construction is always: tener que + infinitive.
With tener que, the verb tener will always be conjugated to match the subject: the person who has to do something. So to use tener que, we just choose the tense and subject and add the next verb in its infinitive form.
Tener que conjugation
Before we see any examples of tener que in use, let’s review its conjugation.
|Él, Ella, Usted||tiene que|
|Nosotros, Nosotras||tenemos que|
|Vosotros, Vosotras||tenéis que|
|Ellos, Ellas, Ustedes||tienen que|
Tener que + infinitive: Examples
Now let’s put this lesson into action, using the right tener conjugation for each subject who is obligated to do the following action. We’ll bold the tener que phrase in both languages, and let you take note of the verbs that follow using the construction of tener que + infinitive.
- To feel better you have to eat healthily. – Para sentirte mejor tienes que comer saludable.
- I can’t go, I have to take my father to the airport. – No puedo ir, tengo que llevar a mi padre al aeropuerto.
Negative sentences with tener que are simple, simply add no before tener que and you can express a lack of obligation.
- You can lock the door if it makes you feel more comfortable, but you don’t have to do it. – Puedes cerrar la puerta con llave si te hace sentir más cómodo, pero no tienes que hacerlo.
Now you! Practice saying what you have to do today. You have some examples in the following flashcards.
What do you have to do today? ¿Qué tienes que hacer hoy?
Let me know in the comments below!
CEO of The Spanish Tribe