Te Quiero vs Te Amo: Don’t Say the Wrong ‘I Love You’ in Spanish
There is a misconception about using te quiero vs te amo when expressing the concept of “I love you” in Spanish.
Although quiero often means “I want,” te quiero can translate to “I love you” in certain circumstances.
The two phrases are used in different ways across the vast Spanish-speaking world. Amar means to love. Te amo is a deeper, more intense declaration of love than te quiero, but it’s not reserved for romantic relationships.
When referring to a person, both amar and querer are Spanish verbs that mean “to love.” Still, there are certain nuances to using amar and querer with different people and in different situations.
The te quiero vs te amo issue is admittedly not super clear cut. That’s why, for non-native speakers, finding the right words to convey our love in Spanish can be a challenge. Keep reading to learn when to say te quiero vs te amo, plus a variety of other words that express feelings of love in Spanish.
When to Use Te Quiero vs Te Amo
If you want to tell someone you love them in Spanish, should you say te amo or te quiero? Let’s take a closer look at the different uses of these verbs to better understand when to use te quiero vs te amo.
The Case for Querer
In general, the safer choice is “te quiero.” It will be understood and sound natural.
Because querer is a common Spanish verb that often means “to want,” beginning Spanish students may not realize that it can also express love. Querer expresses desire in the following examples:
Marta quiere viajar a Asia el próximo año. – Martha wants to travel to Asia next year.
Quiero una taza de café. – I want a cup of coffee
Te quiero is actually the most common way to say “I love you” in Spanish. Since its literal translation is “I want you,” it may sound a bit strong to native English speakers. In Spanish, however, it has a lighter connotation of love and care. Friends and relatives frequently say “te quiero mucho” to one another.
Querer is the light version of amar. While te quiero expresses affection, it doesn’t have as romantic or intimate a connotation as te amo.
Querer Example Sentences and Usage
Te quiero mucho. – I love you very much
Beto quiere a Elisa. – Beto loves Elisa
Quiero mucho a mi familia. – I love my family very much.
Ana quiere mucho a sus amigos. – Anna loves her friends.
Querer is rarely used to say “I want you” in a romantic sense. Learn more about querer and its conjugation.
Use querer with the following people:
- Family members (using te quiero vs te amo depends on each individual’s preferences)
- A recent relationship
- A person you have feelings for
What About Amar?
Regarding te amo, the verb amar— depending on the region—isn’t used as much as querer by most native speakers. To some, it might sound like something a character would say in a telenovela and not something two young lovers would say in real life. To others, it may sound like a deeper declaration of profound love for a person. Te amo is frequently used in poetry, movies, and song lyrics. Do keep in mind that te amo could come across as a little overpowering if you haven’t been with your partner for long. Amar has a greater and deeper degree of affection than querer.
Amar is the direct translation of “to love” and it’s used to express the greatest and deepest degree of affection. As a result, we use them in meaningful relationships or with very special people.
Amar Meaning and Uses
Amar is the direct translation of “to love” and just as the English verb, it has different uses in Spanish. Here are some of the most common ones.
Using Amar to Show Affection
This Spanish verb is used to show the greatest and deepest love. It is considered intimate. You can use two different grammar structures with this verb.
- Indirect pronoun + amar (conjugated)
Te amo. – I love you
¿Me amas? – Do you love me?
Mi mamá y mi papá se aman. – My mother and father love each other.
You can throw in an adverb to modify your phrase.
Te amo muchísimo. – I love you very much.
Te amo tanto. – I love you so much.
If instead, you wanted to express that a friend loves someone, you’ll need to make some adjustments to the structure. Be aware that even though the English translation remains the same, in Spanish, we need to add a preposition.
- Person 1 + amar (conjugated) + a + person 2
Marío ama a Lucrecia. – Mario loves Lucrecia.
Yo amo a mis primas. – I love my cousins.
Eduardo ama muchísimo a su esposa. – Eduardo loves his wife very much.
Use amar with the following people:
- Your partner (as long as you are in love).
- Family members
Using Amar to Talk about Things You Love
In some Latin American countries, such as Colombia, México, Costa Rica, and Guatemala, amar is also used to express that you like something strongly. For example:
Amo esa película. – I love that movie.
Fernando ama los museos. – Fernando loves museums.
Mis hermana y yo amamos practicar yoga. – My sister and I love to practice yoga.
In Spanish, this use of amar is informal. If you’re traveling in Latin America, pay attention to whether or not the Spanish country you’re in uses amar this way.
In some countries, such as Spain and Argentina, the previous examples would sound weird. If you want to play it safe and use standard Spanish, you should use encantar instead.
Me encantó la película. – I loved the movie.
Felipe le encanta viajar. – Felipe loves to travel.
A mis amigos y a mí nos encanta estudiar español. – My friends and I love to study Spanish.
Other Ways to Say “I Love You”
The dictionary will tell you that either amar or querer (and even desear and encantar) can be translated in some contexts as “to love.” However, unlike amar, encantar doesn’t have an affectionate tone. Instead, it expresses that you like something or someone very much.
When talking about objects or activities, adorar is also used to express that you really like something. However, when referring to a person it would translate as “to adore.”
Me encantó el final de la novela. – I loved the end of the novel.
Adoré este episodio. – I loved that episode.
Norma adora a su nieto. – Norma adores her grandson.
Note that encantar is a verb that is conjugated like gustar.
So, which do you say, te quiero or te amo?
Querer can be used in all kinds of loving relationships (as can amar), including friendship, marriage, and family. Both te quiero and te amo are common ways of saying “I love you,” and in a romantic situation neither is likely to be misunderstood. Equally, querer and amar can be used in non-romantic contexts like the love of siblings.
Remember that amar shows a greater and deeper affection than querer. As a result, we can say te amo to our family or partner.
Romantic Spanish Phrases
Last but not least, here are some more helpful terms for expressing love and affection:
Mi corazón – my heart
Mi amor / mi amorcito – my love
Mi cielo – my heaven/sky
Mi vida – my life
Mi cariño – my sweetheart
Querido/a – dear
Mi media naranja – my soulmate (informal)
Alma gemela – soulmate (literally “soul twin”)
Te adoro. – I adore you.
Abrázame. – Hug me.
Besame. – Kiss me.
Do You Love Spanish?
Te quiero vs te amo is just one example of the subtle nuances of the Spanish language. Cultural elements and contextual cues are key to communication. Practice your Spanish skills with our friendly certified teachers from Guatemala today in a free trial class. See how quickly and efficiently you can rock the Spanish language!
What are your favorite Spanish terms of endearment? Leave a comment and start a conversation with Spanish learners from around the world!
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