Saying "I Love You": "Te Amo" or "Te Quiero"?

Choice of Verb Varies With Context, Region

Couple in Seville, Spain
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If you want to tell someone you love him or her in Spanish, do you say te amo or te quiero? Any good dictionary will tell you that either amar or querer (and even some other verbs such as desear, gustar and encantar) can be translated in some contexts as "to love."

There's no simple answer to the question, as it depends on context as well as where in the Spanish-speaking world you are. In an appropriate context, neither te quiero nor te amo is likely to be misunderstand as a way of expressing love. But there can be some subtle differences.

Words can have more than one meaning. Esperar for example can mean to wait, to hope or to expect. Querer has two uses: to love, and to want.​ A​mar is usually a bit stronger and not always romantic. In México it is commonly used with mothers, and grandmothers as well as with lovers and husbands. Te quiero can also be used the same way. However, you would never say te amo to your best friend, but te quiero would be fine in that case. Me encantas can also be translated as "I love you," but is rarely used as such. Me encantas is more commonly used for "I'm enchanted" (by you). I believe usage varies by country and region to some extent. It can also be a question of habit. Through time, a particular couple may just choose te quiero over te amo or vice versa. Whatever makes you happy.

Saying "I want you" is a little bit different. Te deseo can mean I want you as in to desire someone. You would not use te quiero to say this. When you want someone to do something you can't say Te quiero tirar la basura for I want you to take out the trash. Instead you would say, Quiero que tires la basura, literally I want that you do something.