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Spying on the haves and have nots in Portugal and Spain

by Bernard O'Shea

Hola! Ola! That’s the Spanish and Portuguese respectively for hello.Today we are going to look at the various verbs meaning “to have” in both those languages. One thing I wouldn’t mind having is the mansion at the end of this beach in Estoril, one of the plusher suburbs on the outskirts of Lisbon, on the estuary of the River Tagus – or Tejo, to give it its proper name in Portuguese. There is a casino at Estoril, and one of its many famous guests was Ian Fleming during the second world war. Apparently there were lots of spies about, and that’s where he got the inspiration for his James Bond character and the novel Casino Royale. I’m sure if you were to visit Estoril you too would find something inspirational too. (There, I have written something to justify the use of this picture.)

Right, this post is the follow-up to the one looking at the verb “to have” in the other three of my five Romance languages (luckily I stopped at five, methinks). Unlike French, Italian and Romanian, both Spanish and Portuguese have two verbs meaning “to have”, just as they have two “to bes”. The Iberians like to have two of everything!

Let’s look at how they are conjugated in the present tense, starting with ter in Portuguese and tener in Spanish. Again, I will put the singular persons on the top line and the plurals underneath; in the third person the masculine form will precede the feminine.

Language:          first person         second person                   third person

Portuguese         eu tenho            tu tens, você tem               ele tem, ela tem

Portuguese        nós temos              vocês têm                     eles têm, elas têm

Among the useful things you can say with this verb are: tenho fome (literally, I have hunger which would be translated as I am hungry), tenho sede (I am thirsty), tenho frio (I am cold); tenho sono (I am sleepy), tenho um sonho (I have a dream), tenho vinte anos (I am 20 years old – which is a blatant lie coming from me), tenho dinheiro (I have money). In Portuguese to make the negative you put não before the verb: (eu) não tenho dinheiro, meaning I don’t have any money.

If you walk into a shop, once you have greeted the shopkeeper – it always helps to be polite – you could say in an inquisitive tone “tem…..”  it is like asking “do you have…” For example, Tem arroz? Do you have rice? Or if you really wanted a mansion like the one in the picture you could go into a real estate agent and say “Tem castelos?” (“Have you got any castles?“)

Tenho followed by de and an infinitive means I have to do something. For example, tenho de partir agora, I have to go now.

Note how, unlike in English or French, in Portuguese you don’t have to use the subject pronoun if it is clear from the verb ending which person is doing the action. For example, the eu in eu tenho razão (I am right) can be dropped and tenho razão will suffice. But if you used the third person version tem razão it could mean he is right or she is right, so it would be better to be specific and say ele tem razão if he is right, or ela tem razão if she is right.

And if it is an argument between a man and a woman, just remember the woman is always right!

Ok, let’s cross the border into Spain….

Language:     first person             second person                   third person

Spanish           yo tengo              tú tienes, usted tiene             él tiene, ella tiene

Spanish    nosotros/as tenemos      vosotros/as tenéis       ellos/ellas/ustedes tienen

The uses in Spanish are similar: tengo sed (i am thirsty), no tengo suficiente dinero (I don’t have enough money). The negative ‘no’ or ‘not’ in Spanish is no – that should be easy to remember.

Portuguese also has the verb haver (the present tense verb endings are: hei, hás, há, havemos, hão) and Spanish has haber (he, has, ha, hemos, habéis, han).

Here on YouTube is a pretty good explanation from the guys at about.com of its use and its pronunciation in Spanish.


And for Portuguese lessons with a dash of eccentricity and a view of Lisbon thrown in, you have to go to woltersworld on YouTube. It sounds like he has learned his Portuguese in Brazil. Here it is.

Hope to spy you on the beach at Estoril one day.

Cheers, Bernardo 🙂

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