When to Use The Verbs Ter and Haver in Portuguese

Ter means to have and haver means there is / there are, to exist, so at first it seems that they wouldn’t be interchangeable, but in fact, they are.

Haver, there is /there are, is an impersonal verb, that is, it is used without a subject. Here are some examples:

Há um aluno novo na nossa classe. There is a new student in our class.

Note that haver has no plural because it is not conjugated as a regular verb:

Há três alunos estrangeiros na nossa classe. There are three foreign students in our class.

Ter, to have, is an irregular verb conjugated: eu tenho/I have, você tem/you have, ele-ela tem/he-she has, nós temos /we have, vocês têm/you have, eles-elas têm/they have in the present.

Eu tenho duas irmãs. I have two sisters.

Eles não têm paciência. They have no patience

Você tem meu número de telefone? Do you have my phone number?

In informal, spoken Portuguese ter often replaces haver. Here are some examples:

Há ovos na geladeira? Are there eggs in the refrigerator?

Informal: Tem ovos na geladeira? 

Há muitos  turistas no Rio. There are many tourists in Rio.

Informal: Tem muitos turistas no Rio

It’s important to note that when ter replaces haver to mean there is/there are it becomes an impersonal verb too, so it is used in the third person singular without a subject. 

Haver cannot replace ter when ter is being conjugated with a subject, when it conveys possession or in other idiomatic expressions. Look at these examples:

Nós não temos tempo para estudar. We have no time to study.

Que carro você tem? What car do you have?

Eu tenho vinte anos. I’m twenty years old. 

Ter and haver are also used as auxiliary verbs followed by the past participle of a verb to express an action in the past that happened before another action in the past, corresponding to the English past perfect tense. In this case, there’s virtually no difference in meaning and both are used in either formal or informal situations.

Here are some examples:

Quando Pedro entrou na sala, a professor já havia começado a aula. When Pedro arrived, the teacher had already started the lesson.

Or

Quando Pedro chegou, a professor já tinha começado a aula. No difference in meaning.

Nós já havíamos dito a mesma coisa. We’d already said the same thing.

Or 

Nós já tínhamos dito a mesma coisa.

Now, for practice, put ✓next to the sentence where haver can be used instead of ter and ✗ when it can’t.

1. Tem palavras que eu não entendo. (     ) There are words I don’t understand.

2. Quantos anos tem a nossa professora? (     ) How old is our teacher?

3. Paulo e Teresa já tinham feito o exercício. (     ) Paulo and Teresa had already done the exercise.

4. Tem pessoas que não gostam de sorvete! (     ) There are people who don’t like ice-cream!

5. Eu tenho uma casa na praia. (     ) I have a beach house

Answers: ✓sentences: 1;3;4; ✗sentences 2;5

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