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I found this sentence in my textbook:

마음에 드는 지갑이 있어 사려고 했는데 가격이 너무 비쌌다.

and its translation should be roughly:

I intended to buy my favorite wallet, but the price was to high.

My question is: what does the 있어 do in the middle of the sentence? Could this be a mistake?

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    It is not a mistake. 있어 in your sentence is only an abbreviation of 있어서. Similar answer here – Coconut Oct 8 at 3:47
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The sentence structure is:

A[[마음에 드는 지갑]이 있어(서)] B[(그 지갑을) 사려고 했는데], C[가격이 너무 비쌌다].

A: There was a purse I liked

B: so I was about to buy (it), but

C: it was too expensive.

So, 있어 in the sentence does have meaning ("there was ..."), but somehow it's missing from your translation.

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