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In the article Multiple case roles by D.N.S. Bhat, I came across this:

(1) The cat climbed the tree.

(2) The cat climbed to the tree.

(1) implies that the cat climbed the tree from the ground itself, whereas (2) has no such implication. One could use (2), but not (1), if the cat has climbed to the tree from the roof.

Neither Merriam-Webster Online nor Oxford Learner's Dictionaries hint at the connotation of the usage in (1) (exhaustiveness). How does a non-native would know such a distinction?

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  • The primary meaning of to climb [something] is to ascend, or move upwards on it. We don't use to in this context unless a particular location is mentioned (climb to the top, climb to the lowest branch). It's just one of those things a non-native speaker has to learn. Nov 2 '20 at 10:39
  • @Kate Your comment suggests the usage in the article is wrong.
    – blackened
    Nov 2 '20 at 12:20
  • The cat climbed to the tree would only make sense if the cat had to climb [up] something in order to reach the tree. Only then could the cat climb up the tree. In which context the word "up" is entirely optional, and doesn't actually affect the meaning since up is implied by climb anyway (you can climb down a ladder, but just climbing the ladder with no preposition always means up). Nov 2 '20 at 14:10
  • I can't see the details of your source, but it doesn't look to me like suitable material for someone in the early stages of learning English. It looks like something aimed at linguists who are already competent in the language. In the real world, The cat climbed to the tree has no real value as an actual utterance, because there would almost never be a context where one might say it. Except insofar as it represents a syntactically valid utterance for the purposes of linguistic analysis. Aimed at people who can make the relevant distinction without giving it a second thought. Nov 2 '20 at 14:17
  • I did compose a reply (saying much the same thing), but I must have accidentally failed to save it. Nov 2 '20 at 14:28
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Climbing to something means you make your way to it over complicated, and usually elevated terrain, without necessarily gaining or losing elevation.

Climbing up or down something means gaining or losing elevation on the thing itself.

"The monkey climbed up the fruit tree, then climbed to the fruit over the thin branches."

The answer to your question as to how a non-native speaker would be able to tell the difference from the dictionary alone, is that I suspect it is impossible without examples, but perhaps someone could answer that better.

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