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"John was walking at grade and slipped on a patch of ice. When John slipped he did not fall to grade as he caught himself with his right hand [...]"

Does "at grade" mean "on an uneven/inclined surface", or "on a slope" ?

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    What is the context for the text? At-grade is a technical term and not commonly used by people who are not road engineers, insurance adjusters, or other professionals.
    – choster
    Mar 30, 2015 at 16:05
  • What Choster said. OED has this definition 11: Of a surface: Degree of altitude; level. rare. at grade (U.S.): on the same level. I wasn't really familiar with this "technical/engineering" usage, but after a pretty fruitless search in Google Books for fall/fell to grade, I'm far from convinced OP's second instance is idiomatically acceptable in any context. Mar 30, 2015 at 16:13
  • @choster - your're right, this is a modified excerpt from a construction injury report
    – Antoine
    Mar 30, 2015 at 16:32
  • @choster It looks very much to me as if that is the intended meaning, rather than MrWonderful's answer. I would make it an answer. Mar 30, 2015 at 17:15
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    Normal speech in USA: John was walking on the ground and slipped on a patch of ice. When John slipped he did not fall to the ground as he caught himself with his right hand.
    – Good A.M.
    Mar 30, 2015 at 18:54

1 Answer 1

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John was walking at grade and slipped on a patch of ice. When John slipped he did not fall to grade as he caught himself with his right hand [...]

In construction, grade has several potential meanings:

grade

Definitions (8)

  1. The surface or level of the ground.

  2. A classification of quality as, for instance, in lumber.

  3. The existing or proposed ground level or elevation on a building site or around a building.

  4. The slope or rate of incline or decline of a road, expressed as a percent.

  5. A designation of a subfloor, either above grade, on grade, or below grade.

  6. In plumbing, the slope of installed pipe, expressed in the fall in inches per foot length of pipe.

  7. The classification of the durability of brick.

  8. Any surface prepared to accept paving, conduit, or rails.

dictionaryofconstruction.com

The expressions walking at grade and fall to grade, clearly eliminate five definitions, and leave three possibilities to choose from:

grade

Definitions (8)

  1. The surface or level of the ground.

  2. The existing or proposed ground level or elevation on a building site or around a building.

  3. Any surface prepared to accept paving, conduit, or rails.

All three of the remaining definitions are consistent with the the ODO definition of at grade:

North American On the same level:

Emphasis mine

On a construction site, the default meaning of grade is "existing ground level", unless otherwise specified. The most likely interpretation is:

John was walking at ground level and slipped on a patch of ice. When John slipped he did not fall to ground level as he caught himself with his right hand.

If the larger context provides information specifying another definition of grade, it is interpreted:

John was walking at a specified level and slipped on a patch of ice. When John slipped he did not fall to the specified level as he caught himself with his right hand.

We know from this account that John fell less than his own height at or near ground level.

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