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In the following sentence can I use either of the two? step/pace and until/til

It took exactly twenty-five paces(steps) from the office door until(till) her desk.

What sounds more natural to the native ear?

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A pace usually means the stride one ordinarily takes in unimpeded walking: roughly thirty inches, or three-quarters of a meter.

But the ancient Roman military passus, usually translated 'pace', was two strides: in marching, the distance between successive strikes of the same heel. The English 'mile' of just over 5,000 feet derives from the Roman mille of one thousand paces.

A step has a broader range: it may be a step up or down, as well as a step on level ground, and even on level ground the particular footing—mud, or snow, or ice, or vegetation—may enforce steps smaller than a full stride.

Accordingly, pace is more usual for approximate measurements.

In your example, however, pace will be appropriate only if the path from the door to the desk is unimpeded—for instance, down an aisle between desks or cubicles. If there are turns or obstacles, step may be all that is enumberable.

Whichever unit of measure you use, the ordinary construction is so many X from A to B, not until or till. Until and till mark endpoints in time, and even there are used mostly for time as experienced rather than measured.

He worked until four o'clock, BUT
He works from nine to five.

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    The other reason I prefer pace to step in this context is the other meanings of the word step, for example: It was twenty-five steps from raw ingredients to finished product. Such additional meanings don't prevent the word step from being used, of course, but it can make pace a better option. – J.R. Mar 30 '13 at 11:38
  • @J.R. true; although pace, too, has other meanings: "Work proceeded at a brisk pace", or "Jane fell behind early, because she was pacing herself; eventually she overtook the leaders". – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 30 '13 at 11:43
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    True enough! But when I hear the expression "10 steps," I often initially think of a 10-step program, or 10-step procedure, rather than 10 strides across the floor. On the other hand, if I hear "10 paces," I don't normally associate that with the pace of my work. – J.R. Mar 30 '13 at 11:49
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It depends. If you want to specify an exact number of steps, then paces sounds more natural:

My sofa is ten paces from the fridge

My sofa is ten steps from the fridge (or My sofa is ten footsteps from the fridge).

In context however, it sounds like twenty-five paces is being as a rough estimate of length, which is why it sounds a little forced. A native would much more likely use an alternative unit of length:

It is twenty-five feet from the office door to her desk.

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  • A native (at least this native) would only use that unit of length if a tape measure was used to obtain the measurement. I agree with you, though, "exactly twenty-five paces" sounds a little odd, because paces is a rough unit of measurement, so it doesn't go well with the word "exactly". I'd suggest: "It was twenty-five paces from the office door to her desk," or maybe, "It was an even twenty-five paces from the office door to her desk." – J.R. Mar 30 '13 at 11:28
  • @J.R. Does 'an even xyz' mean 'around/roughly'? – Soulz Mar 30 '13 at 11:59
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    @Soulz: :^) I wondered if that might prompt another question. "Even" can be used to say that something came out to a nice round number. If I buy six items at the grocery store, at the total comes out to $9.00, I might say, "Wow, that's an even nine dollars," meaning it wasn't $9.02, or $8.97. In this example, I wouldn't say "an even 22 steps" or "an even 26 steps", but I might use even when the number happens to be a multiple of 10 or 25. So, although the measurement in paces is a rough estimate of length, the number of paces it happens to be is a nice "even" number (i.e., a multiple of 25). – J.R. Mar 30 '13 at 12:08

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