Using personal a correctly in Spanish is one of the early challenges for learners. And what you were taught in Spanish class about personal a probably didn’t give you the whole story. The truth is that learning a language sometimes involves unlearning a few things along the way. First you were taught how to form a sentence containing a direct object: Veo el coche. Then you were taught that if the direct object is animate, you need the so-called personal a: Veo a mi hermano. Next you learned that the verb tener is an exception: Tengo dos hermanos. Well it turns out that this exception to the exception has an exception itself.
If tener does not express a relationship but rather a condition, the personal a rule applies after all.
- Todavía tengo a mi mamá. I still have my mother, now that my father has passed away. Note that this sentence is not expressing that you have a mother. Instead, it underscores that your mother’s existence is important to you. You can rely on her.
- Jorge tiene a dos primos en Ciudad Juárez. Jorge has two cousins in Ciudad Juarez that he can rely on. (movie dialogue)
- Tienes muy precupado a tu papá. Your father is very worried about you. That is, you have him in a state of worry.
- Tenemos a Sadam Husein. We have captured Saddam Hussein. We have him as a prisoner.