Tenere is a very common Italian verb that can be used in different contexts. Today I will explain the most common and useful meanings of the Italian verb tenere.
1. The first meaning of tenere is to hold something, generally using your hands or arms, to be sure it won’t fall or slip.
a. Puoi tenermi la borsa un momento, per favore?
a. Can you hold my bag for a moment, please?
2. The second meaning of the Italian verb tenere is to stay in a particular state or condition or position for a certain time or to make someone do this.
b. Ha tenuto per molti anni suo figlio in collegio
b. He kept his son in a boarding school for many years
c. Teneva tutti i soldi nella cassaforte
c. He kept all his money in the safe
d. Quando arrivi a quel punto, tieni la destra
d. When you get to that point, stay to the right
Some typical Italian expressions are:
Tenere da conto = to put something away making sure that you keep it in a good state since it has some economic or sentimental value for you.
Ex: Tienile da conto, sono le uniche che abbiamo della nonna
Keep them with care, these are the only photos we have of your grandma
Tenere da parte = to keep something away for a future use or, even more common, for someone else.
Ex: Ti ho tenuto da parte un po’ di torta, la vuoi?
I kept some cake for you, do you want it?
3. The third meaning of tenere is to hold something, to not show something.
e. Tieni a freno la lingua
e. Hold your tongue
f. Tieni le mani a posto
f. Don’t touch (anything)
4. Another meaning of the verb tenere is to behave towards someone in a particular way. We can also use the verb trattare instead of tenere in this case. I would say that trattare is standard while tenere is a little bit more informal.
g. La teneva come una regina
g. He treated her like a queen
h. Lo teneva come un cane
h. He treated him like a dog
5. The Italian verb tenere can be used in relation to events as a synonym of to hold, to have.
i. Il professore terrà una conferenza domani alle 16
i. The professor will hold a conference tomorrow at 4pm
l. Terremo un party venerdì e voi siete invitati
l. We’ll hold a party on Friday and you’re invited
6. Another meaning of tenere is to have the space to contain something
m. Il teatro tiene solo 100 persone
m. The theater holds only 100 people
7. Tenere can be used in military contexts to say that someone conquered and now controls or defends a place.
n. Il nemico adesso teneva la città
n. The enemy now held the city
8. In some dialects or some parts of Italy tenere is used as synonym of avere.
o. Tengo fame
o. I’m hungry
p. Mario tiene una macchina rossa
p. Mario has a red car
9. Finally, tenere is used in a long list of fixed expressions such as:
- Tenere d’occhio = to keep an eye on something/somebody
Ex: Per favore, tieni d’occhio la mia casa quando sarò in vacanza
Please, keep an eye on my house when I’ll be on holiday
- Tenere in piedi un’attività = to keep something going
Ex: E’ Luca che tiene in piedi tutta l’attività
It’s Luca who keeps the business going
- Tenere testa a qualcuno = to stand up to
Ex: Nessuno credeva che gli avrebbe tenuto testa, ma l’ha fatto
Nobody believed that he would stand up to him, but he did
- Tenere qualcuno in molto/poco conto = to think highly/poorly of somebody
Ex: Francesco tiene suo zio in molto conto
Francesco thinks highly of his uncle
Did you know all these meanings of the Italian verb tenere? If you found this article helpful, don’t forget to share it!
Original image by MBatty