Te quiero y Te amo
I live by the border to Mexico. I have had this discussion frequently with Mexicanos on both sides of the border. "What is the difference between 'te quiero' and 'te amo'? No one seems to agree. I hear from some people that it is the same, while others tell me "te amo" is a much higher level of love. I have been also told that you say "te quiero" about objects and things and that "te amo" is for people. What is the difference?
In Colombia, te quiero is used frequently between close friends. My contextual understanding is that you would not translate this as I love you as used in English, rather it seems to denote a strong feeling of care with no equivalent expression in English. Te amo, so far as I know, holds the same meaning here as does I love you used in a romantic context. I guess that it is also used in the familial way between parents and children.
I have close platonic female friends back home to whom I say I love you, they say the same to me and the platonic nature of that love is understood. I would not use te amo in the same way here and when discussing that with a close female friend to whom I say te quiero, I'm told that te amo would not be suitable. This is however not a closed issue for me and I too am keen to gain a better understanding.
I suppose that this highlights the multiple meanings of the word love and the ambiguity in its use.
But, to aid my understanding, is your reason for not saying it in Spanish the same for not saying it in English, or would you say there is a difference between the fundamental use of the phrase in both languages?
Generally speaking, one would never say "te amo" to a "regular" friend. I was speaking in general terms. However, under the "exceptions", there are certainly people in my life who are not my wife, that I can say "I love you". For example, my wife's sister and I usually exchange "I love you" and we both understand it for what it truly is. We have been very close friends for forty years, so the water runs deep. I tell my wife, family members and certain friends that I love them, and typically the words will always be "I love you".
I have several very close Hispanic friends, and I've never told any of them "Te amo". I do love them, and they know it, but I say "Te quiero". My wife is "mi amor" but my Hispanic friends are "mis amigos" whom I love very much. I think "te quiero" is more appropriate. I personally they they would think it inappropriate if I said "Te amo" to them. If I were speaking to them in English, I could say "I love you" and that would be ok, but with Spanish there is less ambiguity. That's my take on things. I'm not sure I've made any sense, but I hope so.
I would say that 'Te quiero' denotes more of a 'family love' when, 'Te amo' indicates more of an 'I love you' in the sense of a relationship.
"Te quiero" is perfectly acceptable for friends and family. A mother that tells her child "te quiero" is definitely telling the child "I love you", but it's a bit different than when I might say "te queremos" to our very good friends (we love you), it carries more of a "you are very valuable/important in our lives and we appreciate you very much" kind of thing. One would never say "te amo" to a friend, unless they've changed from a friend to a lover, for example. Of course, there are exceptions.
I think they both mean the same thing, "I love you", just different ways of saying it. As far as I know they are both widely used everywhere.
If I remember correctly, Heidita (one of the pro's here) said that "Te amo" is never used for friends. That said, I think "Te quiero" is acceptable for both friends and family - I suppose significant others, too - but "Te amo" is strictly for significant others HTH
Wow! Great responses here. I'd like to say that it's not about concept or word meaning but strictly regarding usage. Some other examples: -"Te quiero" (Cuba) means I like you very much or I have feelings for you, still not reaching the level of love as to say I love you, that's why an average Cuban might say: "Te quiero pero no te amo". "Of course, "te amo" (Cuba) means I love you or I'm in love with you. Here, it's a matter of level or intensity. -On the other hand, "te quiero" (Spain) means both I like very much AND I love you, depending on the context. "Te amo" (Spain)-not used or rarely used, meaning I love you. Generally considered excessively literary or poetic, hence a little corny. An average Spaniard uses "te quiero", directly meaning "I love you" without any in-between levels. -In different areas / countries in the very large Spanish speaking world you'll get varied responses or feedback and will find several interpretations of "te amo / te quiero". There are places where "te amo" is romantic love and "te quiero" is reserved for friends and family. There are others where people use both in the same context.