The reason that Tenere is an important verb to learn on Duolingo

Tenere means "To keep" or "To hold", and you see it in sentences like:

  • Lei mi tiene per mano (She holds my hand)
  • Tieni un diario? (Do you keep a diary?)

And while you may believe that this verb has limited usage in everyday speech, there is another Italian verb that is much more common, and since tenere uses an "irregular" conjugation structure, once you learn how to conjugate tenere (more on that at the end of this post) then you will have no problems using that other verb.

The other verb? Ottenere -- To obtain
In other (English) words: "To get"

I think that we all know that the word "GET", in English, is a critical word to know and use.
The thing about Italian, however, is that there are many different uses depending on the context, so Italians don't have a single word like "get" to use in all situations.
Consider the following Italian sentences and translations:

  • Come si ottiene un biglietto? How does one get a ticket?
  • Otterrò la verdura dal supermercato. I will get the vegetables from the supermarket.
  • Come ci arrivo? How do I get there? (or)
  • Come si arriva là? How does one get there?
  • Sta diventando scuro. It is getting dark.
  • Quando ricevete la vostra macchina nuova? When go you get your new car?
  • Lo capisco! I get it!
  • Vai via di me! Get away from me!
  • Vieni a prendermi! Come get me!
  • Mi alzo dalla sedia. I get up from the chair.
  • Mi sveglio alle sette. I get up (awake) at seven.
  • Come entrava la casa il cane? How did the dog get in the house?
  • Il tempo migliora dopo il mercoledì. The weather gets better after Wednesday.

In the examples above, I substituted the word "get" for ottenere, arrivare, diventare, ricevere, capire, venire, prendere, alzarsi, svegliarsi, entrare, and migliorare!

The two most common verbs, in my opinion, will be ottenere and diventare; "to obtain" and "to become".

So if you haven't run into the verb TENERE yet, on Duolingo, then try to find it on an Italian verb conjugation website, or start with these notes:

io tengo
tu tieni
lui/ lei tiene
noi teniamo
voi tenete
loro tengono

Passato prossimo (with avere): tenuto
Gerundio (with stare): tenendo
Condizionale: terrei, terresti, terrebbe, terremo, terreste, terrebbero
Congiuntivo: tenga, teniamo, teniate, tengano

To conjugate OTTENERE, it is the simplest matter of adding the two letters "OT" in front of all of those words above:

io ottengo
tu ottieni
lui/ lei ottiene
noi otteniamo
voi ottenete
loro ottengono

Lo capisci? ;-)

August 25, 2018


A few additional uses of this verb:

  • Tenersi a disposizione. = To remain available, to make oneself available.

  • Tenere per una squadra. (colloquial) = To support a team. [synonym: tifare]

When giving or handing over something to someone, the sentence commonly starts with the imperative of the verb:

  • Tieni, prendi questi soldi. = Here, take this money.

The passive voice of the verb, essere tenuto, followed by the preposition a means "to have to", "must":

  • Il passeggero è tenuto a timbrare il biglietto. = The passenger must stamp the ticket.

In the south (but not in Sicily), tenere commonly replaces the verb avere when it expresses possession (i.e. not as an auxiliary). This is a trait of the local dialects, but it very often affects also the Italian spoken there (→ regional Italian), so it is extremely common in everyday's language:

  • (Noi) teniamo due figli. = We have two children.

  • (Voi) tenete una bella casa. = You have a nice house.

  • (Io) tengo 30 anni. = I am 30 years old.

  • (Voi) tenete fame? = Are you hungry?

August 26, 2018

Hi! Your list is helpful for me too, thanks. I also would like give you some advice:

Otterrò la verdura dal supermercato. I will get the vegetables from the supermarket.

It sounds better: Prenderò/mi procurerò la verdura al supermercato (but "al"= at the); in this case it's good comprerò (to buy) too.

Sta diventando scuro. It is getting dark.

You can also say (Si) sta facendo buio.

Vai via di me! Get away from me!

You should say Allontanati/Stai lontano da me! ; otherwise in poetic phrases you can say e.g. Lei va via da me., it's similar to "She leaves me." (n.b. we need da with personal pronouns)

Come entrava la casa il cane? How did the dog get in the house?

You should say Come/In che modo entrava in casa il cane? or Come entrò/è entrato/ha fatto ad entrare il cane in casa?

Regarding to "tenere", as CivisRomanus said, there are many uses, normally it corresponds to: hold, keep, support (e.g. the beams of a building), hang on to something, occur/organize (e.g. a conference), to have to/must, to have (dialectal form of southern /central Italy, in my dialect: Io tengo = I ting = I have). : )

Finally, here are some other idiomatic expressions:

tenere testa a qualcuno (like "farsi rispettare/farsi valere", to get respect, to prevail over someone)

tenere a qualcuno (like "volere bene", to love/care about someone)

non tenersi in piedi (like "non riuscire a stare in piedi", not be able to stand up, such as a person who is drunk or tired!)

tieni(ti) la lingua a posto! (lit. "keep your tongue in its place", answering someone who is insulting you, it's similar to "shut up!")

tenere conto di qualcosa/tenere presente (like "considerare/valutare", to consider/evaluate) ect.

August 26, 2018

Grazie per il tuo consiglio.

August 26, 2018

Grazie mille!

August 26, 2018

Thank you for posting this!!

August 26, 2018

Now I have a question, I would like your opinion about this translation please:

Non riesco a capire come funziona questa cosa

Which is the best translation for "non riesco a capire" (i.e. a case in which I have difficulty understanding)?

  1. I can't understand how this thing works.

  2. I'm not able to uderstand how this thing works.

  3. I don't get to understand how this thing works.

I need a confirmation especially for the number 3, I know "to get" means "capire" but "to get + to do something" in Italian means "riuscire a fare qualcosa", so I though about that solution...

August 26, 2018

My guess-- I'm not Italian nor anywhere near fluent in it-- is "I have not reached an understanding of how this thing functions."

A wordy admission that you don't know/ understand.

Riusciere (I think that's the correct infinitive) is a common and very useful verb, especially in certain parts of the country; I can't remember if it is used more in the North or the South, but I think it is the north.
To reach or To get (possess), much like in English where we would "reach a conclusion" or "reach an agreement".

August 26, 2018

Which is the best translation for "non riesco a capire"?

(1) and (2) are correct.

(3) infers that the speaker is not enabled to understand, or not given the opportunity to understand, as if the lack of ability in understanding depended on someone / something else. Instead, non riesco a capire means literally "I am not able to understand" or "I fail to understand", i.e. the lack of ability in understanding depends exclusively on the speaker, who tries to do so but fails.

August 27, 2018

Many thanks to DoppioMab and CivisRomanus, you are very kind, now it's all clear ... or riesco a capire ! Ciao : )

August 27, 2018

Questo è benissimo.

August 28, 2018

I think CivisRomanus and Emy__3 have covered pretty much everything but, and forgive me if I didn't see it, no one mentioned the use of tenere in the structure "ci tengo che + congiuntivo"= I want you (or even he,she,they) to + infinite.

August 30, 2018
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