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I sent a video of people swimming in flood waters to my Spanish speaking language learning partner, to which she responded

 No le tienen miedo a la muerte.

The le in this sentence confused me, so I asked

Does "le" mean "la muerte"?

The way I was thinking of it was that "le" meant "it" but because it's not clear what "it" is we clarified by adding "la muerte"

But she responded

No, "le" se refiere a ellos

But I'm still confused.

UPDATE: Would it be fine to just say

No tienen miedo a la muerte

?

1 Answer 1

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"Le" refers to "la muerte". This is a case of "redundant indirect object pronoun", as explained here. The indirect object pronoun "le/les" is often used even though the indirect object is explicitly mentioned, leading to a duplicate indirect pronoun in many sentences.

"Le" of course does not refer to "ellos" for three reasons:

  • "ellos" is the subject
  • for "ellos" one would have to use "les", not "le"
  • if you change the subject to first person singular, "no le tengo miedo a la muerte" also uses "le" and not "me". If you change the indirect object, "no te tienen miedo a ti", the pronoun changes. So the pronoun refers to the indirect object.

And yes, omitting the pronoun and saying "no tienen miedo a la muerte" is also correct, because the pronoun is optional if the explicit indirect object is a thing and appears after the verb (see the linked explanation).

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