11

Are "ascend 3000 meters" and "climb to 3000 meters" synonymous?

In this press release on Rolls-Royce's website, it says:

...and broke the fastest time to climb to 3000 metres by 60 seconds with a time of 202 seconds

But here's CNN's paraphrase:

The company also said the vehicle achieved the fastest time to ascend 3000 meters by one minute, with a time of 202 seconds.

Does CNN distort the original message?

6 Answers 6

22

While "ascend" and "climb" mean the same thing here, the sentences do not have the same meaning. In fact, the CNN sentence is nonsense.

Climbing 3000 m means finishing 3000 metres higher than where you started.

Without any other context, climbing to 3000 m means finishing at 3000 m above sea level, with no indication of where the vehicle started.

Both phrases could be correct if the vehicle began at sea level.

But earlier in the sentence, CNN also changed "broke the fastest time" to "achieved the fastest time". On its own, this change would be fine, but the full phrase here is "broke the fastest time to climb to 3000 m by 60 seconds, with a time of 202 seconds.

The "by 60 seconds" phrase indicates by what margin the previous record was surpassed using the structure: [ "break" + a record + "by" + margin ].

There is no equivalent structure like [ "achieve" + a record + "by" + margin ]

This means the CNN sentence either suggests that the record is: "the fastest time to climb to 3000 m by 1 minute", or that the new record time is both 60 seconds AND 202 seconds. Neither of those interpretations makes any sense.

8
  • Perhaps you could talk about "ascend 300 meters."
    – Apollyon
    Jan 14 at 0:10
  • Oops, the absence of one 0 doesn't matter; I was asking about "ascend + distance." The reply in hand only talks about "climb + distance" and "climb + to + distance."
    – Apollyon
    Jan 14 at 1:02
  • 8
    The FAI (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) compiles and validates aviation records. The relevant record is shown by the FAI as 'Time to climb to 3 000 m'. That is, from sea or ground level to a height of 3,000 metres (9,842 feet). That is a standardized test of performance. Comparing times to climb between any arbitrarily chosen heights 3,000 metres apart would be meaningless (the air is thinner the higher you go). I would expect Rolls-Royce, a company with an impressive aviation and technical background, to get this right more than CNN, where hasty edits are not unknown. Jan 14 at 8:07
  • 9
    I don’t find the CNN’s rephrasing to be nonsensical in the slightest. While it’s true that achieve [record] + by [margin] is not a used structure, there is such a structure as [superlative] [measurement/quality] by [margin] (fastest time by a minute, longest route by 300 metres, best singer by a mile), which works irrespective of verb choice. So achieve works perfectly fine here – the only mistake is leaving out the to, which may just be a typo (“always check to make sure you don’t any words out”). @Darrel Not in the Andes it wouldn’t. Though probably much slower. Jan 15 at 11:02
  • 2
    @MichaelHarvey I think you comment could be a great answer because it clarifies an important point about the statements in question. Rolls Royce is referencing a performance standard, like zero to 60 for a car. CNN has erred in their reporting by making a less precise and accurate summary of the performance while also failing to clarify that there are performance standards that are being used to measure electric aircraft. Lazy journalism - and a great lesson for English learners to understand. Jan 15 at 20:32
18

"climb to 3000 meters" means to start at an altitude lower than 3000m above sea level, and finish at exactly 3000m above sea level. You could start at 2999m and only need to go one meter higher to "climb to" 3000 meters.

"ascend 3000 meters" means your finishing point is 3000 meters higher than your starting point. If you started at 2999 meters you would have to go all the way to 5999 to have ascended 3000 meters.

Climb and ascend mean the same thing. The reason why the sentences have different meanings in this case is that CNN's sentence is missing the "to" after "ascend".

  • "climb to X" means the same thing as "ascend to X": the final absolute height is X.
  • "climb X" means the same thing as "ascend X": the final absolute height is the starting height + X

Although "ascend 3000 meters" and "climb to 3000 meters" don't actually express the same literal meaning, they probably happen to be be describing the same feat in this case, because Rolls Royce probably didn't set the record for the fastest time to climb from 2999m to 3000m; they probably started their ascent at (or very near to) sea level.

9

gotube makes a good point in their answer around how CNN have introduced differences, but I just wanted to touch on climb vs ascend more broadly. If you look up the definition of climb, there's two related entries:

to go up, or to go towards the top of something:

The plane climbed quickly to a height of 30,000 feet.

In the example of a plane or a vehicle (like in the articles), I'd say climb & ascend are synonymous (when used consistently).

But climb also has a meaning of...

to use your legs, or your legs and hands, to go up or onto the top of something:

We're going climbing (= climbing mountains as a sport) in Scotland next weekend.

So if you're talking about a person climbing, I'd assume some physical effort on their part.

E.g. if you ascended the Eiffel Tower you might have taken the lift to the top, but if you climbed it, you've walked up the stairs. Similarly with the example from the dictionary, you couldn't say you climbed a mountain if you took the funicular to the top :)

2
  • 4
    I think some difference in "effort" can also be read in the case of aircraft. If you strap an aircraft on the back of a larger craft, and the larger craft actually provides the power, then the smaller craft is ascending, but arguably isn't "climbing". Jan 15 at 3:45
  • 2
    On the other hand, "we climbed to 8000 feet before leveling off" means the crew "climbed", despite that the aircraft is what climbed, while the crew sat inside. It's not always the case that the subject mechanically performed the work.
    – MichaelS
    Jan 16 at 2:23
3

The FAI (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) compiles and validates aviation records. The relevant record is shown by the FAI as 'Time to climb to 3 000 m'. That is, from sea or ground level to a height of 3,000 metres (9,842 feet). That is a standardized test of performance. Comparing times to climb between any arbitrarily chosen heights 3,000 metres apart would be meaningless (the air is thinner the higher you go). I would expect Rolls-Royce, a company with an impressive aviation and technical background, to get this right more than CNN, where hasty edits are not unknown.

FAI records

3
  • 1
    Note that, while less accurate, climbs from different altitudes aren't meaningless. We compare quarter mile times, 0-60 times, etc. In all kinds of different conditions, at different altitudes. The best comparisons keep as many variables as possible as identical as possible. But it's not meaningless, especially when you collect enough data to make reasonable inferences. See this random forum post for examples of converting quarter mile times at different altitudes.
    – MichaelS
    Jan 16 at 2:27
  • (As an aside, it's electric, which affects things in ways I'm not sure about. A gas motor typically produces more power at sea level, but I'm not sure it matters as much when your wind resistance goes down with altitude at about the same rate your propeller's thrust goes down.)
    – MichaelS
    Jan 16 at 2:31
  • We don't compare 0-60 times with 30-90 times, usually - that's a more accurate analogy. And I think that quarter-mile races are generally from a standing start? Jan 16 at 7:22
1

The two phrases below mean the same thing:

climb 3000 metres
ascend 3000 metres

and the two phrases below mean the same thing:

climb to 3000 metres
ascend to 3000 metres

The word "to" changes the meaning. The first is to increase your altitude by 3000 metres. So for example if you are flying at 2000 metres and you ascend 3000 metres or climb 3000 metres your final altitude would be 5000 metres. On the other hand if you were to climb to 3000 metres or ascend to 3000 metres then your final altitude would be 3000 metres and you have just climbed 1000 metres.

Note that in aviation the final altitude is usually given so the usual phrasing would be ascend to some altitude. This is to avoid confusion.

However, for record breaking this makes no sense. I can just easily break the record of ascending to 3000 metres by starting at 2999 metres.

Ascending by 3000 metres (without the to) makes more sense for records but it still does not make sense because the climb rate changes with altitude (because you engine efficiency changes with altitude). For correct record breaking events you need to specify the starting condition (from take-off, from 10000 feet etc.) and the end condition.

1

Another angle:

There is no "ascend" in aviation jargon, only climb (however, there is "descend"). "Climb" means increasing altitude till reaching announced level. It does not matter which altitude (Qnh,Qfe). "to" or "up" are rarely used to shorted communication.

Usual conversation:
ATC: Callsign1, Climb and maintain 4000

Pilot: Climbing 4000, Callsign1

P.S. There is an official subset of Enlish words and phrases in aviation which all parties must adhere to (pilots and ATC in particular) for safety reasons

1
  • Excellent addition!
    – gotube
    Jan 18 at 19:33

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .