I love you in Spanish: Different levels of love, from "Te quiero" to "Te amo"

In Colombia, we don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day like the rest of the world. We celebrate “Día del Amor y la Amistad” (Love and Friendship Day).

Unlike Valentine’s Day, which mainly focuses on romantic love and relationships, on “Love and Friendship Day”, we express love and affection to our closest people, all of them! This includes our date or partner, family members, friends, and even colleagues and classmates.

Yes, that’s how Colombians are… Warm, loving and affectionate!

Of course, these qualities should also be expressed with words… (and you know, we are good at that as well!).

For us, it’s essential to tell our beloved ones how much we care about them, how much we treasure them, and how much we love them.

Spanish is such a rich language, and we couldn’t just say “I love you” for any occasion or any person. It would be boring, don’t you think?

“I Love You”

In English, You say “I love you” to express love and affection. You might not use it too frequently, you don’t say it to everyone, and you don’t say it at an early stage of your relationship, right?

In Spanish, we don’t want to be short on words for expressing our love. But we also don’t want people to freak out when we tell them our feelings…

What to do, then?

Well, in Spanish we have defined words and expressions for each level of love.

The Colombian love spectrum

We don’t love a person just like that, from one day to another, do we?

When we talk about romantic love, the progression of a relationship goes typically like this:

 

Gustar > Encantar > Querer > Amar > Adorar
(Me gustas > Me encantas > Te quiero > Te amo > Te adoro)

 

You say
You like someone
(To Like = Gustar)
Me gustas
You like someone even more
(To like a lot = Encantar)
 Me encantas
You start to have feelings for that person
(To love (Affection) = Querer)
Te quiero
You fall in love
(To love (love) = Amar)
Te amo
You treasure/adore that person
(To adore = Adorar) 
Te adoro

Have you noticed we have two different words for “Love”?
Querer” and “Amar

The question of when to say “Te quiero” and when to say “Te amo” is a big source of confusion for people learning Spanish.

If you want to tell someone you love them in Spanish, what would you say “te amo” or “te quiero”?

Short answers for this:

  1. It depends on your feelings for that person.
  2. It depends on who you are saying it to. To your partner, family or friends?.
  3. First you say “Te quiero” (I love you), after some time together you’d say “Te amo” (I love you).

We know it might be confusing. That’s why we have written this blog!

1. Querer

Here comes the first confusing part:

“Querer”? Doesn’t it mean “To want”?
Yes.

So, “Te quiero” means “I want you”
No.

It depends on the context.

Commonly, “querer” expresses wants and desires, as in the following examples:

Quiero viajar a Asia el próximo año.
I want to travel to Asia next year.

¿Quieres un café?
Do you want a coffee?

BUT…when we are talking about feelings and relationships “querer” is a common way to say “I love you”.

“Te quiero” expresses affection; it doesn’t have a romantic or intimate connotation like “te amo” does, and it has a lighter sense of love and care. Let’s say “querer” is the light version of “amar”.

You can use “querer” with the following people:

  • Friends. Good friends, close friends
  • Family members (using te quiero or te amo with family depends on your preference)
  • Your significant one. A person you have feelings for, a person you are dating but just haven’t quite reached the next level of your relationship with.

In Colombia, friends and relatives frequently say “te quiero mucho” to one another.

Here some examples with the verb “Querer”:

Te quiero mucho.
I love you (no yet in love)

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.

2. Amar

What About “Amar”?

“Te amo” is a more profound phrase, and it also means I love you, but it is way more intense than “te quiero”. It’s a declaration of deep love for a person.

It is not usually said just because. When you say it, you really, really mean it. You’re in love!

It’s usually used between couples, and you can also say it to any member of your family if you feel like it.

The tricky part is when you move from dating someone to having a more serious relationship with that person. Your feelings for them are growing.

In English, you might say “I love you” in the early stage and also when the relationship is established.

In Spanish, we don’t say “Te amo” in the first stage of the relationship. We say “te quiero”. If you say “te amo” too quickly the other person might freak out and run away!

You don’t say “Te Amo” when dating someone… That’s a big “NO”….

First, you say “Te Quiero”, then you say “Te Amo”…. The timing depends on the person and the relationship. When you know, it’s right.

You can use “amar” with the following people:

  • Your partner (as long as you are in love).
  • Family members*
  • Close friends*

*This is not something you’d say to a long-time friend or a 2nd cousin.

Here some examples with the verb “Amar”

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.

Yo también te amo.
I love you too.

Like “Querer,” the verb “Amar” can also be used to express likes and desires, but in this case, when you strongly like something.

In this context, the verbs “Amar”, “Encantar”, “Adorar” are synonyms.

For example:

Amé la película / Me encantó la película.
I loved the movie.

Fernando ama los museos / A Fernando le encantan los museos
Fernando loves museums.

Mis hermana y yo amamos el yoga / A mi hermana y a mi nos encanta el yoga
My sister and I love to practice yoga.

Caro ama viajar / A Caro le encanta viajar.
Caro loves to travel.

Amo el español de Colombia / Me encanta el español de Colombia.
I love Colombian Spanish.

Key Takeaways

  • “Te quiero” and “Te amo” can both mean “I love you”. The difference is that “Te amo” is considered more intimate, while “Te quiero” is considered more casual.
  • Use “te quiero” when you are dating someone, NEVER use “te amo”.
  • Te quiero is a mild way to say I love you in Spanish. It is used to show affection and that you care about somebody without necessarily being in love.
  • You can use either “te quiero” or “te amo” with close family members and friends. It’s up to you.
  • With more distant friends and extended family members, you always use “te quiero”
  • When expressing likes and desires, you can also use “querer”.
  • When expressing likes and desires, but strongly you can use “amar”

We hope you have learned and enjoyed reading this article. Visit our blog to read other articles about Spanish language and Colombian culture.

If you want to learn Spanish or improve your current level join any of our classes, online or in-person.