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Verb Ter in Portuguese

In short, the verb ter is the Portuguese equivalent of have as both share the same basic meaning and are grammaticalized in similar ways.

Ter is nonetheless used in ways that might surprise you! Let’s take a closer look at it. 

Reading tips: Learn more about other frequently used Portuguese irregular verbs: Portuguese Irregular Verbs Students Need to Learn as Soon as Possible.


Ter is one of the most commonly used verbs and, as is the case with several other high-frequency verbs, it has an irregular conjugation:   

Pretérito perfeito
Pretérito imperfeito
Ele, ela

Eles, elas

Usage that you’d expect

Expressing possession

As already mentioned, ter shares the same basic meaning of have:

Tenho 3 filhos.
I have 3 kids.

Eles têm muito tempo livre.
They have a lot of free time.

Forming perfect tenses

Like have, ter is used as an auxiliary verb to form perfect tenses*:

Ela já tinha estado no Canadá.
She had already been to Canada.

* It is also possible to form perfect tenses with haver, which is also a cornerstone verb in Portuguese: Verb ‘Haver’ in Portuguese.

Expressing a must

The phrase ter de is the Portuguese equivalent of have to, which expresses a must

Tens de parar de beber se quiseres salvar o teu casamento.
You have to stop drinking if you are to save your marriage.

Usage that might surprise you

Talking about age

We use ter in contexts where English call to other verbs other than have. For instance, when talking about age:

Ela tem 42 anos.
She’s 44 years old.

Que idade tem o Ricardo?
How old is Ricardo?

Expressing physiological states

Unlike English, we use ter to talk about physiological states. In that case, the verb is followed by a noun:

Tens calor?
– O oposto, tenho frio.

– Are you hot?
– On the contrary, I am cold.
Tens fome?
– Sim, tenho fome e sede.

– Are you hungry?
– Yes, I am hungry and thirsty.

Go and meet someone

Distinctively enough, it is quite common to hear the structure ir/vir + ter + com in contexts where people arrange meet-ups or refer to past meetings. 

Here’s an example where two people try to fix a meeting:

– A que horas podes vir ter comigo?
– Posso ir ter contigo depois das 17h.

– What time can we meet?
– We can meet after 5 pm.

Here’s another example where someone talks about another person she met on that day:

Hoje fui ter com a Paula e tomamos um café.
Today I met Paula and we went for a coffee.

A few idiomatic expressions with ter

Let’s conclude this post with some idiomatic gloss. Here’re a few popular idioms with ter in them:

1ter jeito paraEle tem jeito para o piano.
He’s got a knack for playing the piano.
2ter muito que se lhe digaEste tema tem muito que se lhe diga.
This topic is quite complex.
3ter lataÉ preciso ter lata!
You’ve got to have a lot of nerve!
4ter pintaEla tem pinta!
She is stylish!
5ter penaTenho pena!
I’m sorry!
6ter paciênciaTem paciência!
Be patient!
7ter hipóteseNão tens hipótese nenhuma!
You don’t stand a chance!
8ter a ver comNão tem nada a ver com isso.
It has nothing to do with that.
9ter à vontadeEla tem muito à vontade em falar em público.
She feels very comfortable speaking in public. 
10ter os seus quêsIsto tem os seus quês…
This is not that simple… 

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