The "love" verbs: *querer* and *amar* (and more)
I was asked to repost this from the discussion about a particular exercise where different verbs are used to express "love" in Spanish. So here it is, cleaned up a bit! Note that I am not a native Spanish speaker, but I have had several years of formal university study, about twenty years experience visiting and living in Spanish-speaking countries (Mexico and Colombia), and three serious romantic relationships with native Spanish speakers during that time.
So, when referring to people, both amar and querer are the main verbs used in Spanish-speaking cultures to mean "to love" but with different connotations. Most of the time the verb querer is the word for "to love" in a romantic relationship. Your typical boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife relationship would usually be expressed with querer. For example, "Yo quiero a mi esposa", meaning "I love my wife", or "Pablo quiere su novia", "Pablo loves his girlfriend".
Amar is typically used only for particular kinds of love: In some countries only for a very special, "once in a lifetime" love, not for every boyfriend/girlfriend you have. In others it is reserved for family, especially between parent and child or between siblings. In some cultures it's seen as an old-fashioned word you'd only use in soap operas or historical romance novels, or when writing love poetry or proposing marriage. HOWEVER, amar is also often used in Spanish for loving God or loving abstract things like your country or your culture. "Yo amo mi patria", is "I love my country".
Before using amar you should know what the special meaning and connotations are in the Spanish-speaking culture you are in!
When talking about religious love or special devotion, the verb adorar is often used as well. It expresses a love that also has an element of worship, so you could say Los egipcios antiguos adoraron gatos, "The ancient Egyptians adored/worshipped/loved cats". But it can also be used for an exaggerated sense of love, like in English we might say "Oh my love, I adore you!" (In Spanish: ¡O mi amor, te adoro!)
But when talking about loving a person, querer should be your go-to word unless you have a good reason to use amar. Since querer also means "to want", if you actually want to say "I want (that person)" use desear. Note that using desear to refer to a person typically is an erotic/sexual statement! If I say Paula, te deseo, I'd better be ready for her to come home with me. ;)
So basically, when referring to people, amar generally means a stronger, more committed "to love" than querer. This lends itself to almost a cliché exchange where the boy says to the girl "Te quiero", and she replies, "Yo te amo!" and the boy freaks out because he doesn't think the relationship is that serious! Another way to "tone down" the relationship is to use gustar, which in the context of people, means to like someone (but don't forget how gustar works, so you say Me gustas to mean "I like you".) "Gustar" is a good verb to use if you are just getting to know someone that you might want a stronger relationship with down the road, although the longer you know someone, the more it can take on the context of "Yeah, you're my buddy but I don't like you that way".
On the other hand, amar can also express a more idealistic sense of caring for someone a lot without the romantic attachment. When my fiancee of 3 years broke up with me, she said, "Te amo pero no te quiero." The meaning was similar to how in English we might say, "I love you but I'm not in love with you." She still cared for me very much "as a friend" but wanted to end the romantic relationship.
Which brings us to a good way to differentiate between the "love" verbs -- when you see querer referring to a person, think of it not as "love" but "being in love", and that may clarify the meaning in your mind. We aren't "in love with" family members or religious figures, so we don't use querer for them. Although also note that another expression for "being in love" in Spanish is estar enamorado de (alguien). For example, "Paula está enamorada de Juan." Paula is in love with Juan. (Literally, "Paula is enamored with Juan.")
Related to that, the expression we use in English "to fall in love" is typically expressed in Spanish with the verb enamorarse (de). For example, Paula se enamoró de Juan means "Paula fell in love with Juan."
Hope this helps people talk about love in Spanish without getting into trouble! Of course, native speakers (especially from cultures other than the ones I'm familiar with) are welcome to elaborate with the particulars of how "love" words are used in their Spanish.
Te amo: to your boyfriend/girlfriend. It Implies that you want to take care of that person in a romantic way. It's stronger than "Te quiero".
Te amo: to your closest relatives. It implies that you want to take care of that person.
Te quiero: to your closest friends. It implies that you enjoy being with that person.
I remember the commercial Yo Quiero Taco Bell with the little chihuahua. Did that commercial mean the dog loved Taco Bell? Or did it mean he wanted Taco Bell?
The interesting thing is that it could go either way; it could be interpreted as either "I love Taco Bell (the restaurant)" or "I want Taco Bell (food)". Which is, I think, exactly what the ad agency wanted - that it could go both ways.
As an aside, McDonald's current "I'm loving it" ad slogan gets translated in their marketing material in Spanish as "Me encanta", which is another "love" verb I didn't even talk about in my post.
Bishop6, I appreciate the info. All I remember about love, from being in Tijuana was ¨Yo te quiero, pero debes que saber, ¡no tengo dinero!¨ Seriously tho, Your post will help me mucho.
Yes, that can be a very important statement to know in Tijuana (I live there!)
Thank you very much for this post. Very interesting and helpful.
best regards, Angel
WOW,,,, MUY IMPRESIONANTE EXPLICACIÓN,,,,,,, DEBES HABER AMADO MUCHO EN ESPAÑOL,,,, Y DEBES HABER QUERIDO MUCHO EN ESPAÑOL,,, : ) te regalo un LINGO,,,, :)
what is the spanish translation for "I need you" in a romantic way? Would that be yo te necesito?
Great explanation! Just a little something, it might be a bit weird in some cultures to use "Te amo" with family members, since it's usually linked to a more romantic kind of love.
But other than that I think you greatly summarized the nuances of Spanish!
Yep, that's why I said you should probably become familiar with how amar works in a particular culture before using it there....
Hey Bishop6, that is a fantastic explanation. Many thanks. Ahora sé porque nosotros terminamos! Paula (me recuerdes?)
Nice job explaining love in Spanish. Now if someone could just help me understand love, in any language!
I'm afraid that is something philosophers have been trying to understand for a long time now!
encantar can also be used to express "love" in Spanish. It is usually for objects, situations, or abstract nouns though.
Very true! I didn't mention it in the post, but I did bring it up in a comment the other day. The post was getting plenty long already....
I think Bishop6 that you might be starting regret taking on translation of this subject, brilliant as it was. (BTW I hope you're going to spend my lingot donation well). I think contributors to this line should probably now either form a therapy group or get back too their Spanish lessons. Hasta el proximo tema!
Thanks for posting this, Bishop. And, for all the effort you put into revising your original! You really have done a great service for us Spanish-learners! (A couple of those lingots you're collecting are from me.)