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While I have no problem understanding the meaning of these two sentences, the use of « à » wouldn’t come to mind if I were saying them myself.

C'est ma faute, je suis désolé. On ne se serait pas fatigués à se battre pour rien dans le village sans ma brillante idée...

In the first example, can « à » be replaced with « à force de {by} »?

La question, c'est plutôt de savoir ce que tu fabriques à filer comme un voleur...

I assume that the second example translates into "We should be asking instead what you’re up to, making off like a thief". But I’m not entirely certain how to interpret « à ».

3

These à are not just (if at all) prepositions but infinitive markers although this concept is not yet established in French grammar.

While the most common marker is de, some verbs like se fatiguer and fabriquer might use a à when followed by an infinitive.

Je me fatigue à essayer de réparer le moteur.

but

Ça me fatigue d' essayer de réparer le moteur.

See http://research.jyu.fi/grfle/464.html and http://gerflint.fr/Base/Paysscandinaves3/kalmbach.pdf from Jean-Michel Kalmbach for details.

In the first example, replacing à with à force de will change the meaning of the sentence.

With à, they are tired because they fight in the first place while with à force de, they are tired because they fight for a substantial period of time.

  • Hi. Regarding the part "because they fight in the first place", do you mean "because they fight for the first time"? – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Nov 17 '16 at 10:07
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    No, not necessarily for the first time. I really mean "because they fight in the first place" using the idiom addressed here: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/86842/… – jlliagre Nov 17 '16 at 10:20
  • So you would mean "dû et seulement dû au fait que ..." or "à la base parce que ..."? – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Nov 17 '16 at 10:30
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    The second choice. If that helps, I would have translated this sentence: "My fault, I'm sorry. Without my brilliant idea, we wouldn't have lost our energy fighting in vain in the village." Brilliant is of course ironical here. – jlliagre Nov 17 '16 at 10:46
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    As you mention gerund, here are alternatives without à : On ne se serait pas fatigués en nous battant pour rien dans le village sans ma brillante idée... and La question, c'est plutôt de savoir ce que tu fabriques en filant comme un voleur... – jlliagre Nov 17 '16 at 20:17
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I think we could translate you sentences like that :

This is my fault, I'm sorry. We would have not get tired by fighting each other for nothing in the village without my good idea...

the question, is to know what you're doing by getting away like a thief

Even if my english is a bit wrong the idea is still here and the translations are really close. Anyway, in both case the à can be translate as by.

-- edit --

The by seems a bit forced, more accurately the "-ing" verb termination seems the best suited translation.

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