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I have read the following sentence:

Le tengo miedo al fracaso.

It means 'I am afraid of failure'.

Why do we use 'Le tengo' instead of 'yo tengo' or 'tengo'? Moreover, why are we using 'al' instead of 'de' for 'of'?

  • See this question and its answers for a more detailed explanation. – Charo Feb 17 at 16:17
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For the first question, it's not compulsory at all to use "Le tengo" instead of "tengo" or "Yo tengo". It's a matter of choice on the speaker. It is true than in Spanish the subject is usually omitted, but it's not compulsory to do so. I think this answers the first part of your question.

As le is a pronoun referring to miedo al fracaso, Le tengo instead of tengo doesn't add any extra meaning to the sentence, and in fact that le is reiterative and redundant.

On the second part, al is the contracted form of a el. This one is however compulsory to use, except in the case of personal names (such as Sara, but including brands that use the word El in their name, for example). This way, a el fracaso is contracted to al fracaso.

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  • it's "a el fracaso" that is contracted to "al fracaso". – rupps Mar 31 '14 at 0:22
  • Haha, yeah, I mixed miedo and fracaso! Editing it now – pHonta Apr 1 '14 at 8:34
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While we could say both have almost the same meaning, there's a subtle difference for me to use one or another.

Tengo miedo al fracaso.

This communicates your fear of failure in general terms.

Le tengo miedo al fracaso.

This also express your fear of failure, but emphasizes failure as something particular to be afraid of, so that the other person understands it is not just one more fear, but a fear of considerable magnitude.

As for using al. It is a part of the verb tener miedo a. And like the other contributor already said, al is a contraction of a el (fracaso).

I hope I made myself clear.

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