Wanting to say I love you to someone, whether it’s a romantic partner or your family member is a beautiful thing. But here’s the thing: you need to learn to say the right Spanish translation for “I love you” depending on the context. There are mainly two options for saying I love you: te quiero vs te amo.
The difference between these two is basically a matter of degree, so when you are deciding which to use you should think about the degree of “I love you” you mean to convey. For example, with your spouse, you will most definitely say te amo but when you’ve just started dating someone, you might want to play it safe and just say te quiero.
Let’s dive deeper into the uses of each one!
When to Use Te Quiero vs Te Amo at a Glance
- New relationship
- Someone you have feelings for
- Serious romantic partner
- Close family members
When to Use Te Quiero
Te quiero in English would be like the mild version of “I love you”, and is also not as romantically charged as te amo, so we usually use it when we want to say that we care about someone.
Who to use te quiero with:
- New relationship
This is not to say that it isn’t used for serious relationships or that if you use it to your husband or wife, it means you’re not intensely in love with them anymore. Te quiero can still be used if you’re dating, engaged, or married, but it can also be used in a platonic sense.
We can also enhance te quiero by adding mucho, which means “a lot”, as in te quiero mucho (“I love you a lot” or “I care about you a lot”).
The Spanish verb querer also means “to want”, but not in the sense of desire, as in “I want you.” You might say that you want chocolate, for example, using this verb: quiero chocolate. Or you could even say that you want to do something by saying: quiero jugar al tenis (“I want to play tennis”).
But when we say te quiero, it doesn’t mean “I want you;” as we said before, it means “I care about you” or “I love you.”
When to Use Te Amo
Te amo in English would be the literal translation of “I love you,” but this expression is much stronger and romantic than te quiero.
Think about every romantic movie ever, you know the scene. The main characters are standing in the rain, looking in each other’s eyes: that’s a te amo moment.
This doesn’t mean that we only use te amo romantically, but it is much more affectionate and shows a much closer relationship than te quiero.
Who to use te amo with:
- VERY close friends (who are like family)
- Close family
- Serious romantic partner
We may use it with our significant other, and with our close family. You can use it with friends, but this is pretty unusual.
Just like with te quiero, we can enhance the meaning of te amo by saying mucho (“a lot”), más que a nada (“more than anything”), or something similar.
Amar doesn’t have a second meaning, but unlike querer we can use it to say that we love something or doing something. For example “I love chocolate” would be amo el chocolate and “I love playing tennis” would be amo jugar al tenis.
Bear in mind that using amar in these contexts means that you really, really, love it. Amar is a strong word, that is, you should use it only when you really mean it. If not, you can always use gustar, which we’ll see in the next section!
Other Spanish verbs to express love
There are other ways to express that we love something. You can use gustar which in English means “to like”. Use gustar when you want to say that you like something or doing something.
Gustar can also be used to say that you like someone. For example, if a friend said me gusta Juan, they mean that they like Juan. But how do they like them? Romantically or as a person? Well, just like in English, it can mean both.
Another word to express love is adorar, which means “to adore”. Sometimes, “adorar” can sit between querer and amar when you are in a romantic relationship.
To put it simply, we may use querer when we’ve been dating for a few weeks, adorar when we’ve been dating for a few months, and amar once you are ready to say those important words.
You can also use adorar with close family and friends. Similar to amar and gustar you can also use it to say that you adore something or doing something.
Lastly, a different option to express love is using the verb apreciar, which means to appreciate, value, or respect. It isn’t quite as common as the other ways of talking about love in Spanish, but it can be a useful way of talking about your feelings about someone.
Te aprecio can be used when you are not ready to say querer yet. In a romantic context, it can be a rather cold expression because it creates distance as opposed to bringing you closer. You’re better off using gustar.
In a platonic context, te aprecio can be a lovely thing to say to your friends and family. But its most common use is with things or actions rather than with people, for example, your boss may say Aprecio el trabajo que estás haciendo which means “I value the work you’re doing”.
The differences between te quiero vs te amo may seem subtle, but in a romantic context, the two feelings are vastly different. Even for native Spanish speakers, it might sometimes be hard to tell the difference between te quiero and te amo, but you should always remember that it depends on the degree of “I love you” you want to say. If it’s a kiss-under-the-rain-moment, you’re definitely in the presence of a te amo. But if you’re ever uncertain, te quiero is a safe choice until you’re ready to say “I love you.”