While I was going to train, I faced a man who asked me how he can go to the train. While I was explaining, I used this expression "go down the ladders". When he heard it, he at first could not understand and he told me that you try to mean descending the ladder.

Does "go down the ladder" and "descending the ladder" have the same meaning?

  • Were they actual ladders or were they stairs?
    – Lawrence
    Feb 6, 2018 at 17:03
  • 1
    Hello, Goktug. By 'While I was going to train ...' I'm guessing you mean 'As I was going to catch the train ...'. Our sister site, ELL, may be more appropriate. But there too they will be surprised that accessing some railway stations requires going down / descending ladders. Feb 6, 2018 at 17:04
  • @Lawrence I guess they are stairs because as far as I know, the ladder is portable and it can be made of wood or metal. In this case, my post has also mistake. I should have used stairs instead of ladders. I just have noticed this.
    – Goktug
    Feb 6, 2018 at 17:12
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    It should be noted that on ships - at least in the US Navy and Coast Guard - what a landlubber would call 'stairs' or 'stairways' are called 'ladders' by servicemen. Feb 6, 2018 at 18:10

1 Answer 1


'Go down' and 'descend' mean the same thing.

However -

'Ladder' and 'stairs, staircase or steps' are different.

Stairs make up a 'staircase', comprising step 'blocks' which build into a stable, stepped pyramidal arrangement that you can walk up, a permanent construction.

A ladder, also has 'steps' on it, in this case, they are in the form of bars that go across, on which you place your foot. A ladder is usually a moveable thing, or it can be fixed in place sometimes, as on a bunk-bed, or on a ship.

I think you needed to say:

  • Go down the staircase or
  • Descend the staircase


  • Go down the stairs
  • Descend the stairs

That probably would have been understood.

I think you used 'ladder' when you really needed to say 'staircase'.

So that confused the other person - as no 'ladder' was probably present!

~When you do reach the train, there may be some small steps up onto the actual train (fixed to the train, I mean). This, you would need to refer to as 'steps'.

Example: 'I am going up the steps to the train'. (Even if it looks like a few steps of a ladder, a bit - you still need to say 'steps'.)

'Steps' is used when there are just a few to walk up, say about 2 to 5 or 7 steps.

It only becomes a staircase when there are about 8 or more steps.

~Case means 'container or box' - so staircase is like saying 'a box of stairs' or 'a box of steps' - but you can't say that in English - you have to say 'staircase'.

  • Use 'steps' for small numbers of steps (2-7) - even on the train
  • Use 'staircase' - for more than about 8 steps
  • Use 'stairs' - for more than about 8 steps
  • Use 'ladder' for moveable steps with bars to put your feet on.


  • 1
    +1 A pretty comprehensive answer. There's also the example of a 'stepladder', which can be referred to either as 'steps' or 'ladder' (but not 'stairs' or 'staircase'. A stepladder is 'moveable steps with bars to put your feet on', with any number of rungs, which is kept upright by it's own legs - you don't need to lean it on anything. I'd think of it as 'steps', even if it had 12 or more rungs/steps.
    – ArchContrarian
    Feb 7, 2018 at 3:42
  • Yes true @ArchContrarian I did think of that but decided 'not to go there!' Partly for clarity ie not muddying the waters and partly because it was already quite long! ๐Ÿ˜Š
    – Jelila
    Feb 7, 2018 at 5:30

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