Is Valentine’s Day coming up? Or maybe you and your partner’s anniversary, or your Spanish-speaking friend’s birthday, and you don’t know if you should say te quiero or te amo? Well, you’re not alone! Affection can come in layers; you may not be in love with someone, but still feel love for that person, like a friend or a family member. But is love different in Spanish?

Maybe not the feeling itself, but the way we talk about that feeling is different.

In Spanish, people use two different phrases to express their amount of affection: “te quiero” and “te amo”. While in English, people simply say “I love you”. That’s why English speakers have trouble knowing when to use these two phrases.

Saying te amo to a new partner without truly feeling it can lead to a sad moment, but maybe you say it because you want to express a feeling of love for him/her. Well, no worries. To save you from awkward situations we’ll explain to you when to use these two phrases.

When to Use Te quiero and Te amo

First of all, querer means to “want”, and amar means “to love”. But “to want” is not always the perfect description of te quiero. In a more physical and less romantic scenario, saying te quiero is a way of saying “I desire you”. In this case the translation “I want you” fits fine.

In the Spanish love language, te quiero is a little bit less intense than te amo (I love you). So, think twice about what you want to say with te quiero. Do you mean you desire that person? Or that you have affection for him/her? Don’t worry too much. The situation you’re in will help you and the other person figure out what you mean by that Spanish phrase.

We use te quiero to express our love for a friend or a family member we don’t have a strong love connection with. You could say something like, “Que tengas buen viaje, te quiero,” (have a good trip, love you) to a friend you’re saying goodbye to.

If you are dating someone, but still don’t feel ready to say those three words, you can express your feelings with a te quiero. It’s great for the beginning of a relationship.

We use te amo for stronger feelings. You could say it to a romantic partner, to a family member, and to your pets. For example: “Te amo, mamá” (I love you, mom).

When you’ve been dating someone for a while and you finally feel ready to express all your love you say “Te amo”. For example: “Te he querido decir esto por mucho tiempo: te amo” (I’ve been meaning to tell you this for a while: I love you.)

Sometimes you can hear people saying te amo to their friends. It’s a normal thing nowadays. If you say it, just keep in mind it has to be to your closest friends and that your tone isn’t very romantic; if not, there might be a misunderstanding. Or, if you don’t feel comfortable saying te amo to a best friend, you can always say te quiero mucho. Which is a stronger way of saying te quiero.

It’s also fine to say te quiero to your wife, husband, mother, or any other close person. It’s just that because of the strong nature of the relationship, te amo is more suitable.

Tip: te amo is for intense, passionate, and close relationships, romantically speaking or not. Te quiero is for affection.

Love in Spanglish

This is a very subjective topic; it depends on the amount of love and connection you have with someone. So, at the end of the day, you choose who you want to say te amo to and who to say te quiero to.

You’re not alone. Spanish speakers also have issues when translating love to English. Oftentimes, they don’t know if they should say “I love you” because they don’t want it to sound like they’re in love with you. So they might say “I like you”, as it’s the closest translation of te quiero, though it’s not the best one. “I like you” could mean you like someone’s personality, but don’t feel any kind of love yet for that person, maybe because she is new to your life. Or it could be used as a declaration: “Me gustas, ¿quieres ser mi novia?” (I like you, do you want to be my girlfriend?)

Love is strongly linked to connection, and thus it has many words and ways of saying it, depending on the country. We can always learn from different languages how to say it, because the more words for love we find, the better our understanding of this feeling.

A better way to understand when to say te quiero and te amo is by watching romantic comedies, listening to love songs, and having a conversation with a Spanish-speaker. You can take a trial class with one of our Spanish tutors, they are native speakers and all classes are personalized. They will help you understand the nuances of Spanish words and expressions.