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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:
Usage that you’d expect
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:
|1||ter jeito para||Ele tem jeito para o piano.|
He’s got a knack for playing the piano.
|2||ter muito que se lhe diga||Este tema tem muito que se lhe diga.|
This topic is quite complex.
|3||ter lata||É preciso ter lata!|
You’ve got to have a lot of nerve!
|4||ter pinta||Ela tem pinta!|
She is stylish!
|5||ter pena||Tenho pena!|
|6||ter paciência||Tem paciência!|
|7||ter hipótese||Não tens hipótese nenhuma!|
You don’t stand a chance!
|8||ter a ver com||Não tem nada a ver com isso.|
It has nothing to do with that.
|9||ter à vontade||Ela tem muito à vontade em falar em público.|
She feels very comfortable speaking in public.
|10||ter os seus quês||Isto tem os seus quês…|
This is not that simple…
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