10

One can mount a horse and dismount (from) it, ascend a mountain and descend from it, go up and down a ladder.

But once someone climbed (up) a tree, would it be correct to ask him to climb down (from) it?

Or should "come down" be used instead, since the meaning of the verb climb is to go up, or to go towards the top of something?

Here's the source with the answer "yes", and here's the one with the answer "no". Are there any alternatives to stay on the safe side?

  • 1
    If you look, you'll see that the pdf file is a copy of a book first published in 1909, and its author, Ambrose Bierce, also composed The Devil's Dictionary, a satirical and cynical dictionary that has not stood the test of time except for the odd one or two genuinely amusing entries. His argument against using "climb down" is extremely flimsy. – Mari-Lou A Dec 11 '16 at 16:22
  • I second what @Mari-LouA said. A guide to English usage that old simply cannot be trusted. Frequently, lists like that contain usages just becoming popular that the author therefore dislikes. Years later, those may be the more common expressions that you should actually favor. – Mark Foskey Dec 12 '16 at 4:35
13

There is nothing wrong with climb down, especially since it's commonly used.

As you have found, it is common enough that it has dictionary entries. Here is another for climb:

climb
3. : to go about or down usually by grasping or holding with the hands <climb down the ladder>

Presently, this is how the verb climb can also be used. Contrary to what your source says, there is nothing imprecise or ambiguous about climb down. Choosing to use it or not use it is a matter of taste, as he admits.

Just like go up and go down the ladder, climb up the ladder can also be used. This is not incorrect and not necessarily redundant.

I glanced through the thesaurus and the only close alternative I found was descend. If you tell a kid "Descend from the tree!", it would sound strange and out-dated (if people ever really spoke like that).

I think come down is a good alternative, as you have suggested. You can also use get down, as in "Get down from there!"

  • Looks like I pulled the question out of thin air, but I didn't. All the answerers somehow skip the second link I've provided. Wondering if you, a native English speaker from the USA, have anything to comment on that. – VictorB Dec 10 '16 at 23:01
  • This one, just scroll down the page. – VictorB Dec 10 '16 at 23:14
  • 6
    The author's objection to climb down is silly. He's made a rule against using a natural Standard English expression, which makes his rule incorrect. – snailcar Dec 10 '16 at 23:19
  • @Rompey What about it would you like us to specifically address? I already addressed it to a degree. And I agree with snailplane. – Em. Dec 10 '16 at 23:23
  • No more comments from me - your (and snailplane's, of course) opinion is more than enough for me, thanks again. – VictorB Dec 10 '16 at 23:28
6

I understand your confusion. That's because you are only considering definitions that imply the sense of upward which means towards a higher place, point, or level or the sense of ascend and for this reason you are wondering: can someone ascend down? Obviously this would be a contradiction of the terms used.

But you neglect the definition #1. b:

b. To move in a specified direction by using the hands and feet: climbed down the ladder

This said, although you can't ascend down, you certainly can climb down.

  • Can I say : "Climb down the hill." If I'm not using my hands? – Kumar sadhu Jun 13 at 1:43
  • Please read carefully the definition I linked, @Kumarsadhu. – Lucian Sava Jun 13 at 5:56
3

To climb down is an idiomatic expression that means:

  • to descend, especially by using both hands and feet.

Dictionary.com

It is common usage and would not be misunderstood.

3

"Climb down a tree" is perfectly acceptable and I think it's the most common way to state this sentence.

If you use the word "climb" as a verb, one of its meanings is 'to go up'. For example, you could say "The airplane climbed to 10,000 feet."

However, that's only one of its definitions, and it's not the correct definition in the context of "Climb down a tree".

In "Climb down a tree", the word climb refers to the physical action of climbing, moving yourself by using your hands and feet. When using this definition of the word "climb", it is often followed by a preposition that indicates where you are climbing or what location you are climbing to.

Example sentences: "Climb over the wall"; "Climb across the bridge"; "Climb down from there."

If you want a word that specifically means 'to go down', you can use the word 'descend', but this would sound too formal in most situations. You could say "descend the tree" or "descend from the tree", and it would convey the same meaning as the original sentence, but it would sound very weird in everyday conversation.

  • No, it does not mean downward movement. If you want to indicate downward movement, you can say "climb down the wall". You use the preposition (over, across, down, etc.) to describe the direction. – williamlue929 Dec 10 '16 at 23:35
3

The other answers are correct—climb down is both sensible and idiomatic. I want to address your hypothetical situation:

[O]nce someone climbed (up) a tree, would it be correct to ask him to climb down (from) it? Or should "come down" be used instead . . . ?

In this specific situation, climb down might well be the best option. With a literal-minded tree climber (I have one of these), any command other than climb down, including come down, get down, and descend immediately! would license jumping out of the tree or just dropping like a stone. Climb down has the (for me) very strong benefit of including instructions about how the arboreal miscreant should descend; specifically, by using hands and feet*.


*The only alternative I can think of for this is clamber down which appears to derive from climb (see etymonline) but is a much less common and familiar word. It also has connotations of clumsy climbing (see Oxford Dictionaries). So my tree-climber wouldn't have recognized it when he was younger, and would probably be offended now (he's a teenager, and still climbing trees at inopportune moments).

1

I came here because a colleague made fun of me for saying "You could climb under your desk".

I didn't think about it when I said it, it's just an expression I have always known. His commenting on it made me think about it though, so I did some research and it turns out to be a common expression. It is rather odd though as "climbing" under a desk is often more just crouching and crawling, with no need to hold the desk at all.

I realise this is not the same as "climb down" but I think it's relevant enough to mention it here.

-3

To climb: to go up or ascend, especially by using the hands and feet or feet only, or to rise slowly by or as if by continued effort. By my understanding to climb describes an upward motion, going up like against gravity, so in my opinion when you say climbing up a latter is wrong because you already described the fact that you are going in an upward direction when you used climbed and you are repeating yourself also climbing down is impossible as you can't go up and down at the same time:))

  • I am sorry but your understanding is not correct. "Climb" is not limited to an upward movement, as the authorities and usage cited in several answers shows. – David Siegel Mar 18 at 5:46

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