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When I want to express the idea of "someone is ever so close to / inches away from / a step away from doing something", I usually say « à deux doigts de faire quelque chose ». A similar expression « à deux pas de » seems to be reserved solely for denoting spatial proximity, as in:

« à deux pas de chez toi »

I find it interesting that in French, you use the word "doigt(finger)" instead of "pas(step)" for the figurative meaning of "a step away from", whereas the equivalent idiomatic expressions in English, German, Italian, Russian and Polish all revolve round the word "pas(step)" – "a step away from", "einen Schritt davon entfernt", "a un passo dal", "в шаге от" and "tylko o krok od" respectively.

This is why I was wondering if you could ever say:

« à deux pas de faire quelque chose »

in French as well.

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    The following thought doesn’t answer (and is not meant to detract from) your good question, but English also has several expressions that capture better the notion of something being even closer/nearer than “within a step [or two]” and which, in my opinion, would be better suited for using figuratively/non-spatially with “doing/being something” than expressions using “step/s” (e.g., “within a hair’s breadth of”//”within a heartbeat of”//”within an inch of”). – Papa Poule Mar 11 '17 at 16:47
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    Agreed with that. "One or two steps away from" something in the figurative sense seems to mean that you have specific stages to go through (perhaps even directives to intentionally follow). To add to your suggestions, one could consider "on the verge of", "on the edge of", "on the point of" – Luke Sawczak Mar 11 '17 at 19:30
  • By "finding common ground" do you mean finding a calque? (Even though what we're saying is that the English doesn't really conform to the figurative "step" meaning either.) Au contraire, à mon avis, toute language possède en effet une variété d'expression suffisante (ou au moins satisfaisante) si les expressions littéralement traduites ne conviennent pas. Si, comme l'ont dit les autres, "à deux pas" ne peut probablement pas porter un sens figuratif, il ne faut pas en exiger un mais chercher une autre formulation : "sur le bord de", "au point de", "à la veille de", "au seuil de" pour commencer. – Luke Sawczak Mar 12 '17 at 3:30
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No, I would rule out à deux pas de faire quelque chose.

À deux pas is always used to say "at a walking distance".

  • Agreed. I think you will be understandable, but it is not the cleanest way to use this expression. – Mistalis Mar 11 '17 at 10:09
  • Agreed too. Being à deux pas doesn’t even involve being interested in making the said two steps to reach the spot. For instance, someone could live à deux pas from the headquarters of a criminal gang, but hoping for the day this distance will increase. If on the other hand they end up being à deux doigts from selling the house 40% lower than its actual value, just to get further away, then there’s no doubt they’re contemplating the action in spite of the money loss that could occur. – Montée de lait Mar 11 '17 at 23:56
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To bring some hard data to this discussion, I looked up à deux pas de la * on ngrams.google.com. I had to cut the à to stay under an ngrams limitation to 5-grams. It looks like all the expressions that come up involve a location. I also replaced _la with mon, ma, son, sa, cette, un, des and the results were pretty much the same: always involving a location.

A search for à deux pas de faire does not return much at all on google in general, and deux pas de faire does not seem to be a known ngrams in ngrams.google.com.

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