Saying “I Love You,” “Te Quiero” or “Te Amo”

Te quiero

If you are very comfortable speaking two languages and switching back and forth between them with complete ease, like I am in Spanish, then you know you have a choice — or more like a preference — of words and phrases that just sound better in one language over the other. Some words just have more heart, others are more powerful, y otras simple y sencillamente son más divertidas de decir o no más no traducen bien.

The emotion of love is one that has so many ranges, shades and even perspectives that I’m thankful I have two languages to express myself in. And I’m not alone. I actually posed this question on the SpanglishBaby Facebook wall this week. I asked:


I got close to 150 responses and people had no doubt about which phrase they preferred or would explain who they say which one to. But what caught me off guard was the overwhelming amount of people that prefer “Te amo” because “Te quiero” just isn’t enough anymore. I didn’t even think of including “Te amo” in the question, but yet it was bursting to come out.

So what do I prefer?

See, this is a question I started pondering last summer when my family went through a scare. My mom was diagnosed with an extremely rare (like one in a million rare!) adrenal gland tumor. She lives in El Salvador and she had to be treated at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Luckily enough, my aunt (my mom’s sister) still lives in Houston, my birthplace, and my mom was able to stay with her for a few months. My youngest sister flew in from Turkey to be there during the analysis and subsequent operation, and so was I.

The day my mom went into the operating room, she lay in the bed shivering and with a look of sheer panic in her eyes because the surgery was very complicated and so many things could go wrong. It was hard to say “Adiós” because you don’t want it to sound final, but at the same time you need to say algo in case the worst happened. That’s when she said: “Te quiero mucho, hijita.”

Sounds like the expected thing to say, right? It was, but those words just never tended to flow so easily out of my mom’s lips. I don’t judge her about it anymore. I don’t blame her. I actually get it because I understand where she comes from. “Te quiero” is hard to say when the words mean much to you, but your soul and inner child hasn’t been soothed with them.

My aunt revealed to me she also had a hard time saying the phrase, but “I love you” was much easier for her. Ahá! Me too! “I love you” has always been a phrase I can blurt out to friends, to lovers, to family, but “Te quiero” said out loud, not written, always comes out rushed as if I’m trying to conceal that I’m actually saying it.

But not with my daughter. She gets it all and always with a “…mucho!” in the end. The more I say it to her, the more I realize how it’s been a process for me to adopt these beautiful phrases to be able to say them to family and friends, and not just the men in my life, and now my husband.

El amar es definitivamente un músculo, un sentido que hay que desarrollar. Those of us that didn’t hear it as much growing up (and I do NOT pity myself for this, I accept it!) can start flexing that muscle slowly until love pours out of our mouths in rivers that flow to those seeds we plant that will grow saying “I love you,” “Te quiero” or “Te amo” with full ownership and security of the varying degrees of beauty that lies within those phrases.

Y tú, ¿Cuál prefieres?


  1. says

    Depende de la persona y el momento! A mi Papá por ejemplo le digo “te adoro” con mucha naturalidad. Igual que a ti “I love you” sale mas facil que “te amo”…te amo son como palabras mayores…que con mi hijo fluyen pero hay que ejercitar con el resto de la familia ;) Un abrazote, te quiero!
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  2. says

    I like that in Spanish we have options, Te Quiero y Te Amo. I came to the US as an adult, and it took me a long, long time to be comfortable saying I love you to those that I really wanted to “emotionally” say te quiero. This is how my brain used to see it, I love you = te amo, that’s it!…. so, I would easily say I love you to my husband but not to a friend. Actually, now that we are analyzing this, I think I am still not as comfortable saying I love you to a friend. I tend to say things like; luv you, love you much, xoxo, etc. I guess I find ways of making it sound more casual and not as powerful as the te amo that I grew up hearing. It is funny that in Spanish we can also make te quiero sound so much bigger by adding words like; te quiero con todo mi corazón …. no matter what we use, I am all for using any of this words and using it often. We should share with others how we feel about them specially if is an emotion of love.
    Te quiero muuuchisimo amiga, por ser tan especial, por brindarme tu apoyo, tu sinceridad y por inspirarme tanta libertad y admiración. Gracias!

    • Ana says

      Once you really start analyzing, you realize we do change the phrase around depending on the level of degree and or intent. I also do the “I love ya” or TQM when I’m writing. Pero qué lindo que tenemos tantas opciones, no?

      Y pues, a ti, te admiro y te quiero por chingona!! jaja!

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