el / del
what is the difference between the two? hacia del gato, cerca el gato?
EdTech, you cannot translate sentences word-by-word. In the context of "being near something", the English "near" is "cerca de" in Spanish (not just "cerca"), even though there is no "of" in the English sentence. And this is where the "de" to form the contraction comes from.
On the other hand, the English "towards" is "hacia" in Spanish (without a "de") and thus there is no contraction after "hacia".
It might be because, "Cerca de" and "el gato" Cerca seems to be near/close, while Cerca de is like "close to". So the de el is contracted to del in this case, as in she sleeps close to the cat, or she sleeps near the cat.
Like many English words, some Spanish words are always followed by a certain preposition. For example, in English you usually say "going to the store" rather than "going the store" even though the word "to" adds nothing that isn't understandable from context. Likewise, there are Spanish words that are always followed by "de" or "a", just as "going" is usually followed by "to" in English. These Spanish phrases, if literally translated to English, wouldn't throw in a "of" (de) or "to" (a) after these words, but the prepositions are required in Spanish.