It’s well known that if you want to avoid drama, you’ve got to watch your words. There are different ways to express our feelings and desires in Spanish, but not using the right word can cause a lot of confusion. To save you from any awkwardness, I’ve put together this quick guide to show you how to use te amo y te quiero to match your intention and feelings. In this guide, you’ll learn what’s the difference and we’ll see some examples to ensure you understand how to express love in Spanish.
To Love in Spanish: Querer and Amar
In Spanish, we like to regulate the amount of affection we share with those around us to avoid problems. While both te quiero and te amo help us talk about our feelings, in most cases they can’t be used interchangeably. To understand when it’s appropriate to say te quiero or te amo, first, you need to look at the verbs amar and querer individually.
Many English speakers mistakenly think that the only translation for te quiero is “I desire you” or “I want you,” when there are many other ways in which you can express desire. When used in non-romantic contexts, querer translates to “want.” However, you can use querer in your sentences to tell others about things you want to have or do, or to express a familiar or friendly kind of love. For example, you can say te quiero to your friends, but not te amo because that implies a bigger romantic commitment.
Like its English counterpart, te amo is the biggest declaration of love you can make. We reserve te amo for significant others in serious relationships or people with whom we share very strong bonds (like our parents, for example, in a non-romantic way). The verb amar also helps us talk about our passions, so it’s not weird to hear musicians say, “Amo la música,” which means, “I love music.” Like in any other language, love is an important word so you need to be careful when you use amar.
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Querer in Spanish
The literal translation for the verb querer is “to want” which is why many people confuse it with “to desire.” But, te quiero isn’t the same as saying “I desire you” in English. In fact, we use te quiero to talk about a more platonic kind of love or to tell our friends and family that we appreciate them.
- Quiero viajar este año. / I want to travel this year.
- Él quiere mucho a su familia. / He loves his family a lot.
- Nosotros también queremos mucho a nuestra abuela. / We also love our grandmother a lot.
Amar in Spanish
Amar is a strong word that conveys a deep romantic connection with someone or devotion to something, so we reserve it for important matters. It literally translates to “love” and it’s the most common word we use to express affection in Spanish. This word carries a lot of weight, so we use it exclusively with people for whom we have very deep feelings. Note that this verb is often applied to people, but it can also be used to tell others about objects, animals, holidays, sports, and other things you love.
Here are some examples:
- Ella ama la Navidad. / She loves Christmas.
- Él amaba mucho a su novia de secundaria. / He loved his high school girlfriend a lot.
- ¿Tú también amas a alguien? / Do you also love somebody?
Alternatives to “I Love You” in Spanish
While saying te amo is still the most common way to say “I love you” in Spanish, there are other words you can use to describe your feelings for someone. Love is a universal emotion, but it doesn’t always fit the context of the phrases we create. Below, you’ll find the different Spanish verbs we use to describe the things we like, enjoy, or find appealing.
Gustar is another verb we use to say we like something or someone. However, unlike amar or querer, it doesn’t carry the same degree of affection or importance. It translates to “like” and “enjoy” and applies to people, objects, animals, and more.
For example, you can say, “Me gusta comer papas con queso,” which means, “I like eating french fries with cheese.”
In this case, we are using gustar to inform others that we enjoy eating french fries with cheese. But, it wouldn’t be possible for us to hold romantic feelings for our food, right? Similarly, you can use gustar to let others know about your hobbies, like this:
“A mi mamá le gusta tejer por las tardes,” which means, “My mother likes knitting during the afternoons.”
Finally, gustar is also used in cases where there is a superficial amount of romantic affection or platonic love. For example, if you were talking about a crush, you would say:
“Me gusta, pero no lo amo,” which directly translates to, “I like him, but I don’t love him.”
The literal translation for encantar is “enchant,” but the meaning of this verb is closer to “delight” or “charm.” Encantar is different from all the other verbs mentioned in this article because it helps us describe something we find pleasant. It serves to describe something we like in a light way, so it’s more like a fleeting feeling. Most Spanish speakers use encantar to talk about things they find pleasant to the eye.
Me encanta el vestido de la novia,” which would literally translate to, “I love the bride’s dress,” but it’s closer in meaning to, “The bride’s dress is charming.”
Encantar can also be applied to point out someone’s charming personality. We use it to express that we find someone’s company pleasant. Here’s an example:
“Su amigo es encantador,” which translates to, “His friend is charming.”
Adorar translates to “adore,” and it’s the closest in meaning to its English translation. While gustar and amar can serve to carry a romantic feeling, the verb adorar is most often used to express admiration. There are no harsh consequences if you use adorar instead of gustar or encantar to talk about things you enjoy or people you look up to, and you might hear native Spanish speakers use it frequently. For example, you can say:
“Ella adora a la música clásica,” which means, “She adores classic music.”
But, it’s also possible to use adorar to describe fondness, like this:
“Los abuelos adoran a sus nietos,” which translates to, “Grandparents adore their grandchildren.”
Te Quiero vs Te Amo: Romantic Spanish Phrases
Spanish is a romantic language, and native speakers like to use it to impress their significant others with shows of affection and terms of endearment. While there’s a wide variety of romantic and flirty phrases you can find in different Spanish-speaking countries, there are some that are quite popular. You want my advice? Stay away from campy language on the first date.
Let’s take a look at some phrases you can say in a romantic context to wow Spanish speakers:
- Tienes una sonrisa encantadora. / You have a charming smile.
- Eres el sol de mi día. / You’re the sun of my day.
- Me encantas. / I really like you.
- Me gusta pasar tiempo contigo. / I like spending time with you.
And some funny Spanish expressions you can say to express you like someone:
- Quién fuera bizco para verte doble. / I wish I was cross-eyed to see you double.
- Quién fuera pan para tanto chorizo. / I wish I was bread for so much chorizo.
- Si así está el infierno, que me lleve el diablo. / If that’s the way Hell is, let the devil take me.
- Si la belleza es pecado, no tienes perdón de Dios. / If beauty is a sin, you’ve got no forgiveness from God.
Ways to Practice Te Quiero vs Te Amo
The best way to practice using te quiero and te amo is to surround yourself with the Spanish language. Even if you don’t know any Spanish speakers, there are many Spanish language resources that can put you on track to fluency. For example, Spanish textbooks often have extensive grammar explanations and interesting cultural notes.
You can also watch Spanish romantic movies or TV shows to become accustomed to the ways people express affection for someone in Spanish-speaking countries.
There are lots of study methods that can improve your language skills and teach you how to use te amo vs te quiero with confidence, so look for one that fits your learning style and practice consistently to see continuous progress.
Te Quiero vs Te Amo: Final Thoughts
Learning the difference between te amo and te quiero and other Spanish expressions of love can be confusing, but it isn’t hard once you break these phrases down into verbs. Querer and amar are part of our daily conversations, and knowing how to use them properly can help you express your feelings and different levels of affection with ease and confidence. Remember that it all depends on the kind of love you want to convey!