THE biggest Mistake Spanish Learners make (TENGO vs SOY)

THE biggest Mistake Spanish Learners make (TENGO vs SOY)

Estoy caliente, ¿tú no?
(I’m attractive, aren’t you?)

Alex, ya pasamos por esto. En español no se dice estoy caliente…
(Alex, we’ve been through this. In Spanish we don’t say “I’m hot” …)

¡Cierto! Tengo calor. ¿Por qué esto me pasa tanto?
(Right! I’m hot. (Lit.: I have heat.) Why does this happen to me so much?)

Mistaking the verb “to be” in English with the verb tener (to have) in Spanish is a very typical mistake. It happens to students from both languages when they translate in their head. In this video, we’ll go over many examples so you never make this mistake again!

¡Hola, hola! Yo soy Maura, de Spring Spanish. ¡Empecemos!

1. Why “I am” and “yo tengo” are confusing

Es normal cometer este error. En español pensamos en muchos sentimientos o estados físicos como cosas que poseemos, que tenemos. Y esto no pasa en inglés. De allí la confusión.
(It is normal to make this mistake. In Spanish we think of many feelings or physical states as things that we possess, that we have. And this does not happen in English. Hence the confusion.)

Ah, ya. ¿Cómo qué sentimientos o estados físicos, por ejemplo?
(Oh, right. Like what feelings or physical states, for example?)

Como tener sueño o tener miedo. En inglés, el miedo o el sueño son estados en los que estás. En español, son estados o cosas que tienes.
(Like being sleepy or being afraid. In English, fear or sleep are states you are in. In Spanish, they are states or things you have.)

Of course, there are some exceptions to this. Nonetheless, it is quite useful to think about the most common physical states as things you have in Spanish. We’ll get to some of those exceptions in a second. First, let’s check out some more examples of physical states or emotions.

More physical states or emotions with tener:

  • ¡Tengo demasiada hambre! (I’m too hungry! Lit.: I have too much hunger.)
  • Los bebés siempre tienen hambre. (Babies are always hungry. Lit.: Babies always have hunger.)
  • Antes siempre tenía sueño, pero desde que fijé horarios para dormir, no suelo tener sueño durante el día. (I used to always feel sleepy, but since I set sleeping schedules, I don’t usually feel sleepy during the day.)
  • Yo le tengo muchísimo miedo a las arañas. (I’m very afraid of spiders. Lit.: I have much fear of spiders.)

¿Y tú? ¿A qué le tienes miedo? (What about you? What are you afraid of?) Let me know in the comments!

  • En Madrid ya no tenemos calor, ¡por fin! Ahora, incluso, tenemos un poco de frío. (In Madrid we are no longer hot, finally! Now we are even a little bit cold.)

Temperature is a big one! Especially because using estamos calientes instead of tenemos calor in Spanish wouldn’t even be a mistake. Simplemente significa algo enteramente diferente. (It simply means something entirely different.) It could even be a little bit embarrassing if you didn’t mean it. If you want to understand this better, check out Paulísima’s video on the subject.

A common exception:

No quiero hablar ahora. ¡Estoy molesta!
(I don’t want to talk now! I’m angry!)

20 minutes later…

Estoy súper avergonzada de cómo te contesté. Lo siento, es que estaba molesta por algo, pero ya pasó.
(I’m super embarrassed about how I answered you. I’m sorry, I was upset about something, but it’s over now.)

So, the very common emotions, or states, of being angry and being embarrassed are actually talked about with estar in Spanish as well as in English. So we say:

  • Estoy molesta. (I’m angry.)
  • Estoy avergonzada. (I’m embarrassed.)

But do notice that molesta and avergonzada are adjectives and adjectives can talk about emotional states. And so we use estar (to be). While with our previous examples we’re talking about things:

  • Tengo miedo. (I’m afraid. (Lit.: I have fear.)
  • Tengo hambre. (i’m hungry. (Lit.: I have hunger.)
  • Tengo sueño. (I’m sleepy. (Lit.: I have sleepiness.)
  • Tengo calor o frío. (I’m hot or cold. (Lit.: I have heat/coldness.)

When we talk about things or emotions, not emotional states, like fear or hunger, we do it with tener (to have.) Actually, if you translate it directly to English, it could still make sense. You’ll end up with: I have hunger or I have sleepiness. Instead of I am hungry or I am sleepy. Though it’s not how it’s said in English, it still makes sense, doesn’t it?

Remembering only a few of these will go a long way in teaching your brain how to think about this in Spanish. Eventually saying these last with estar will sound so off you won’t doubt it anymore.

2. “To be right” is something you have in Spanish

Before we continue, at the end we’ll go over the classiest, most common, almost unavoidable mistake between yo tengo (I have) and “I am”. Make sure to stick around for it!

Yo sé que tienes razón, pero es tan raro pensar en el sueño o el hambre como algo que se tiene.
(I know you’re right, but it’s so weird to think of sleep or hunger as something you have.)

Lo sé, tú también tienes razón. Por eso, lo más importante es repetir estos chunks hasta que decir otra cosa te suene aún más raro.
(I know, you’re right too. That’s why the most important thing is to repeat these chunks until saying something else sounds even weirder to you.)

Tienes razón. Vale: tengo frío, tengo sueño, tengo calor, tengo hambre, tengo miedo.
(You are right. Okay: I’m cold, I’m sleepy, I’m hot, I’m hungry, I’m scared.)

So, razón doesn’t mean right. Razón means reason or rationality. Again, we’re talking about a thing. Maybe if you think about it as such, it’ll be easier for you to see what we are saying with this chunk. Essentially, “I have the rationality”: Yo tengo la razón.

You can, of course, denied or ask with this chunk. Like:

  • Me parece que no tienes razón, pero podemos comprobarlo. (It seems to me that you are not right, but we can check.)
  • ¿Ella tiene razón o no tiene razón? (Is she right or is she wrong?)

In case you run into it, in Spain a lot of people say: llevas razón (Lit.: you carry right). But I’ve never heard this outside of here and it still sounds weird to me.

Oh, and, a word of wisdom from my mom: Tener razón no es tan importante como saber manejar no tener razón. (Being right is not as important as knowing how to handle not being right.)

3. Age: the classiest, most common, almost unavoidable mistake

¿Recuerdas cuando estabas aprendiendo español y siempre decías “yo soy 22 años”?
(Remember when you were learning Spanish and you always said “yo soy 22 años“?)

¡Se me había olvidado! Es verdad. Siempre hablaba de la edad con ser.
(I forgot about that! It’s true. I always talked about age with ser.)

Sí. Y me preguntabas cómo de vieja era la gente, lo cual tiene sentido en inglés pero la traducción literal suena rarísimo en español.
(Yes. And you were asking me how old people were, which makes sense in English but the literal translation sounds really weird in Spanish.)

Qué loca. Ahora sé que no. Ahora sé que tengo 22 años y te pregunto cuántos años tiene la gente.
(How crazy. Now I know (no). Now I know I’m 22 years old and I ask you how many years do people have.)

I’m sure you’ve seen this before, even in one of our other videos, but it’s such a typical mistake nonetheless. Actually, it might be the most common mistake regarding this subject. Repeat after me: Una edad es algo que se tiene en español, no algo que se es. (An age is something you have in Spanish, not something you are.)

¡Adivina cuántos años tengo y cuéntame cuántos años tienes tú en los comentarios! (Guess how old I am and tell me how old you are in the comments!)

Let’s review a bit, ok?

Use yo tengo (I have), not yo soy (I am), for emotions or things, like:

  • Yo nunca tengo miedo. (I am never afraid.)
  • No me molesta tener algo de frío. (I don’t mind being a little cold.)

Use yo tengo (I have) to talk about being right.

  • No siempre tengo razón, pero siempre lo intento. (I’m not always right, but I always try.)

Remember to use yo tengo (I have) for age!

  • Cuando yo tenía nueve años me rompí dos dientes contra una pared. (When I was 9 years old I broke two teeth against a wall.)

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