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Is it more correct to say "I climbed up the stairs" or "I walked up the stairs"?

Climb is defined as

go or come up a (slope or staircase); ascend.

Walk is defined as

an act of travelling or an outing on foot.

Both are theoretically correct, but is one more correct than the other?

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  • 1
    books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – Jim
    Sep 5 '16 at 5:43
  • Neither is more correct. They mean different things.
    – JEL
    Sep 5 '16 at 9:00
  • Why does one have to be "more correct" than the other?
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 5 '16 at 16:43
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    @HotLicks One does not have to be more correct than the other. I am asking if one of them is more correct than the other. Sep 5 '16 at 21:09
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From Merriam-Webster:

climb: to move or go up (something) using your feet and often your hands

From Dictionary.com:

climb: to ascend, go up, or get to the top of, especially by the use of the hands and feet or feet alone or by continuous or strenuous effort: to climb a rope; to climb the stairs; to climb a mountain

Because climb when used without an adverb or prepositional phrase (e.g., over, over the rocks, down, down the stairs) implies "up", one should leave out "up" in this case.

So, either of the following would be equally correct:

I climbed the stairs. (Not "I climbed up the stairs.")

OR

I walked up the stairs.

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    Climb doesn't imply up. You can just as easily climb down something.
    – Mr Lister
    Sep 5 '16 at 8:37
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    @MrLister Perfectly true, but we do climb stairs, climb mountains, and climb buildings. However we climb down a mineshaft, and we climb down from on high. In other words with the word climb the presumption is that it means up, unless down is specified.
    – WS2
    Sep 5 '16 at 9:08
  • @WS2 Illuminating point re "down" versus "up". Sep 5 '16 at 14:51
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    @RichardKayser There wouldn't be anything much wrong with saying I climbed up the stairs, or I climbed up the mountain for that matter. But it is not the usual idiomatic form, that is all. However climb up does provide a nuanced variant - perhaps implying that it was all done rather more easily and quickly than would be realistic. (At least that would be my view of climb up. Others may feel differently.).
    – WS2
    Sep 5 '16 at 16:38
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    As regards the original question, if I were talking about our own stairs at home, which I use every day, I think I would say I walked up the stairs, or I went upstairs. However if I visited a tall building and the lifts (elevators) were not working, I might say I had to climb the stairs to the eighteenth floor. If I had to go into my loft (attic) at home I would probably say I climbed up the loft ladder. Our speech is highly nuanced but it is not always easy to spot the rules which we all employ, without thinking, every day.
    – WS2
    Sep 5 '16 at 22:16
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As a UK English speaker, I do not think there is a BIG difference between "I climbed up the stairs" or "I walked up the stairs". It’s a matter of emphasis. You can also say “I went up the stairs”.

If you just mean you are going to the upper floor of a house, it is most common just to say "I went upstairs". In this case, upstairs is a place: “the bedroom is upstairs”. So "I went upstairs" just means I went to that place. The route taken and the method are unspecified. You could say "the bird flew upstairs", but it could clearly not fly up THE stairs.

“I went up the stairs” emphasises the stairs as the route taken: "I went up the stairs because the lift is broken"; "I cannot fly, so I went up the stairs".

"I walked up the stairs" emphasises walking as the method used to get upstairs "the old woman walked up the stairs instead of using her stair-lift". “She has trouble walking up stairs due to arthritis”. It might also emphasis both the method and the route “The lift is broken and I am exhausted because I had to walk up the stairs”.

"He climbed the stairs" is something you might find in older books simply meaning he went upstairs, but nowadays it implies some abnormal effort "the baby climbed the stairs today without any help”; “though shot in the leg he nevertheless managed to climb the stairs”.

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  • It is probably an exaggeration to say that climb 'implies some abnormal effort', but the answer is on the right track in so far as it brings out that climb emphasises the upward direction in the way in way in which walk up does not. People are thus more likely to use climb up for steep staircases.
    – jsw29
    Sep 13 at 16:11

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