I was walking with my friend and when he went to take the lift to ground floor from the third floor, I suggested to him, "Let's at least climb down the stairs"; the word down taking some extra stress, meaning that since it is easy to run down the stairs, let us at least do that.

But he corrected that climb down cannot be used in a grammatically correct sentence. Is it true?

I always thought, climb up is a phrase that means to go up; similarly, I conveniently assumed that climb down is also a possible phrase that means to go down something.

Please clarify.

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    "Climb down" is reasonably idiomatic (in the US) when the stairs are (relatively) steep. Also, one would "climb down" a tree or a mountain. – Hot Licks Sep 20 '16 at 12:13
  • I'll venture to say that in the UK, 'climb down' (and 'climb up') necessitates a degree of 'climbing-as-opposed-to-not-using-hands' (eg 'He climbed down the cliff'), whereas a car may climb / ascend a hill. So 'climb down the stairs' would imply they're damaged. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 20 '16 at 12:39
  • In translation from BE to AE, that's the elevator for "lift" and first floor for "ground floor". – Peter Point Sep 20 '16 at 12:41
  • @EdwinAshworth I can't understand the implication that the stairs are "damaged". How so? – Peter Point Sep 20 '16 at 12:50
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    "climbing" vs "walking" describes one's mode of ambulation - so it depends on the state or steepness of the stairs as to whether one would choose to "climb" or "walk" down them - and this may differ from person to person - I might walk down some stairs that my child would climb down. – Jeffrey Kemp Sep 20 '16 at 13:23

I can't find an appropriate definition in an open-access dictionary, but the full OED has...

climb - To raise oneself by grasping or clinging, or by the aid of hands and feet

...where on the same page they also list...

to climb down: - to descend by the same means (as that described above)

To my mind you can only really climb down the stairs if they're very steep / rickety (so you need to use your hands as well as your feet). But note that we often use constructions like climb up the hill even when there's no need to use one's hands (it just adds the implication of it being a steep hill).

  • I descent (just kidding.) If I wanted to emphasize the use of both hands and feet, I would say "clamber." Moreover, I have certainly heard "climb down, climb out" and even "climb down off." – Airymouse Feb 17 '17 at 21:47

You can climb down a tree or a cliff or a ladder but the sentence that most English speakers use for stairs would be "go down the stairs".

To be honest, most people wouldn't say "climb the stairs" to mean going up, the would just say "go up the stairs".

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    Actually, in the context given (juxtaposing the stairs with an elevator), I'd say the sentence most English speakers would use is, “take the stairs”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 21 '16 at 10:39
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    Example of climbing up stairs: "The elevator was out. I had to climb up five flights of stairs to get to your office." – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow Nov 20 '16 at 14:10

It's grammatically correct but not perfectly logical, in my opinion. The meaning is clear in context (so it's a minor infraction) but "climb" almost always means to ascend. It can also mean to exit an enclosure, e.g. "climb out of the box".

Saying "climb down" is somewhat akin to saying "enter the outdoors" or "float to the bottom of the ocean".

"climb" is an antonym for "descend" or "go down" so you'd probably say "descend the staircase". However (as commented above), for many people it's perfectly valid. For example, I would say "climb down from there" to a child up a tree or on a tall bench.

  • @Jefferey Kemp Quite so! it's just as you say but might we also add that it's an oxymoron? I am for ever reminded of the amusing silliness of an oxymoron as I live next door to the "Royal President Hotel". – Peter Point Sep 20 '16 at 12:32
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    Climb down is commonly used for ladders, walls, ropes, trees, cliffs, and all sorts of other things, although generally not for stairs. And climb down never means ascend. – Peter Shor Nov 20 '16 at 13:59

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