The cat is climbing (up) the tree.

diamondcutter

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1. The cat is climbing the tree.
2. The cat is climbing up the tree.

To describe the picture. I think both the sentences are OK, but I’d like to know which is more common. Maybe #2 is more common because the preposition “up” emphasizes the steepness of the tree?
What do you say?
 
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diamondcutter

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Is there any difference between #1 and #2?
 

emsr2d2

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Of course there's a difference. Sentence 2 contains an extra word. Are you trying to ascertain if there's a difference in meaning?
 

diamondcutter

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Yes, I’d like to know the difference in meaning between the two sentences.:)
 

emsr2d2

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There is no discernible difference. In general, we take "climbing" to mean "climbing up".
 

jutfrank

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Please stop asking which sentence in a pair is more 'common'. That's usually the wrong question. What you should ask is for us to explain the differences in meaning.

The difference in meaning here is not great enough to bother trying to explain it.
 

Tarheel

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I think both sentences are okay. (I would probably use the version with up (for no particular reason).)
 

Phaedrus

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I think that in some cases there may be a difference. I just watched the documentary Free Solo yesterday. The examples below are inspired by it:

(a) He is climbing El Capitan.
(b) He is climbing up El Capitan.

In my opinion, (a) indicates that he is not only in the process of climbing it but also intends to climb the whole thing (whether or not he succeeds).

In contrast, I think that (b) would be acceptable to use if he were in the process of climbing it but had no intention of climbing the whole thing.

In case you don't know, El Capitan is a three-thousand-foot granite wall in Yosemite Valley, California. Some people skydive ("BASE jump") off of it.

Since we can't properly know the intention of cats in their climbing endeavors, I don't think the same semantic contrast exists in the OP's example set.

Alex Honnold "Free-Soloing" El Capitan
Alex Honnold.jpg
 

emsr2d2

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Neither a nor b would tell me whether he was planning to climb to the top.
 

Phaedrus

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Neither a nor b would tell me whether he was planning to climb to the top.
Perhaps it is easier to see in the passive.

Strictly speaking, (a) says that El Capitan (the whole thing) is being climbed by him.

If the whole thing is being climbed by him, this could be true only if he climbed all of it; so we may infer that he has that intention or plan.

In contrast, (b) says that El Capitan (the whole thing) is being climbed up by him.

If it is being climbed up by him, this could be true even if he only climbed up part of it; so we may infer nothing regarding the scope of his intended climb.

Consider, too, the interesting contrast that emerges in the simple past with the adverbial "a little way." Which sentence do you find more natural?

(c) ?? The cat climbed the tree a little way.
(d) The cat climbed up the tree a little way. / The cat climbed a little way up the tree.
 
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jutfrank

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It's really a question of interpreting two different kinds of meaning of the verb climb, which can denote both what I call a 'pure' action as well as a 'complete action', as is very likely the case in the following sentence, where climb is a transitive verb:

Last summer I climbed Everest.

A listener would feel tricked if you said this and then later revealed that you had just gone up to the first camp. The sentence isn't about the pure action of climbing but about completing the action.

When used as an intransitive verb, the meaning is much more easily interpreted as a 'pure action' verb, with the focus on the action as an activity. In the cat example, the preposition phrase up the tree gives a sense of direction to the action.
 

Tarheel

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I find "El Capitan is being climbed by him" to be very unnatural. However, "The cat climbed up the tree a little way" is the kind of thing you might expect somebody to say. (All it says is the cat didn't climb all the way to the top, but a good guess would be that it didn't climb more than about halfway up.)
 

Phaedrus

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It's really a question of interpreting two different kinds of meaning of the verb climb, which can denote both what I call a 'pure' action as well as a 'complete action', as is very likely the case in the following sentence, where climb is a transitive verb:

Last summer I climbed Everest.

A listener would feel tricked if you said this and then later revealed that you had just gone up to the first camp. The sentence isn't about the pure action of climbing but about completing the action.

When used as an intransitive verb, the meaning is much more easily interpreted as a 'pure action' verb, with the focus on the action as an activity. In the cat example, the preposition phrase up the tree gives a sense of direction to the action.
Amen, Jutfrank. That's exactly the unarticulated distinction that lay at the back of my mind when I made my posts: pure action vs. complete action. I suppose that the progressive complicates matters, contra my earlier posts. Consider the following sentence:

Last summer I was climbing Everest with a group of climbers when an avalanche tumbled athwart our path and forced us to turn around.

Part of my joy in writing that variation on your example was in using the preposition athwart, which I have long wanted to do; however, my main reason for writing the variation was to show that the complete-action meaning in the transitive case (climbed the mountain) is not contradicted with information about its being an unfinished act—provided the progressive is used (was climbing the mountain), the progressive focussing on the middle of the action.

*I built the house, but got distracted and didn't finish it.
I was building the house, but got distracted and didn't finish it.


Getting back to diamondcutter's cat, I think that the real distinction between climb the tree and climb up the tree stands out in the non-progressive, especially when we change the direct object from the tree to something the climbing of which has a more obvious point of completion. The cat climbed the fence implies that the cat made it to the top of the fence (and perhaps to the other side), whereas The cat climbed up the fence has no such implication.
 

probus

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Cats that climb up trees are sometimes too afraid to climb back down and have to be rescued by the fire department.
 

jutfrank

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Last summer I was climbing Everest with a group of climbers when an avalanche tumbled athwart our path and forced us to turn around.

my main reason for writing the variation was to show that the complete-action meaning in the transitive case (climbed the mountain) is not contradicted with information about its being an unfinished act—provided the progressive is used (was climbing the mountain), the progressive focussing on the middle of the action.

For me, this example is interesting in its ambiguity. The transitivity of climbed leads to a complete action reading, but the progressive aspect in conjunction with the past simple in the subordinate clause biases toward a pure action reading.

I think there's something more going on here, too, which is that there is something in the meaning of climb Everest specifically that contributes to a complete action interpretation. We understand climbing Everest as a feat that has in itself the idea of successfully reaching the summit. If you were to substitute Everest with a mountain, your sentence wouldn't be so readily interpreted as a complete action, I don't think.

Getting back to diamondcutter's cat, I think that the real distinction between climb the tree and climb up the tree stands out in the non-progressive, especially when we change the direct object from the tree to something the climbing of which has a more obvious point of completion. The cat climbed the fence implies that the cat made it to the top of the fence (and perhaps to the other side), whereas The cat climbed up the fence has no such implication.

Yes, I agree with that.
 

Tarheel

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Cats that climb up trees are sometimes too afraid to climb back down and have to be rescued by the fire department.
I have a theory about that. The cat will come down the tree when it gets hungry enough. (That theory was tested once, and the cat came down from the tree.) Hunger will overcome fear. Patience!
 

Phaedrus

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I think there's something more going on here, too, which is that there is something in the meaning of climb Everest specifically that contributes to a complete action interpretation. We understand climbing Everest as a feat that has in itself the idea of successfully reaching the summit. If you were to substitute Everest with a mountain, your sentence wouldn't be so readily interpreted as a complete action, I don't think.
This thread has reminded me of Renaat Declerck's discussion of ontological aspect (a.k.a. lexical aspect, Aktionsart), specifically of his discussion of the telic–atelic distinction, in The Grammar of the English Verb Phrase. He explains that a verb phrase is telic if it represents the situation it describes as tending toward an inherent point of completion, and atelic if it does not.

The verb phrases in He climbed and He climbed for three hours are atelic: they do not represent a situation with an inherent point of completion. In contrast, He climbed Everest and He climbed a mountain are telic: they do represent a situation with an inherent point of completion. The mountain having been climbed, be it Everest or any other mountain, the situation will have come to completion.

There are two tests that Declerck discusses for distinguishing between telic and atelic verb phrases. The first is that telic VPs can be, in substantive -ing phrases, the complement of finish or complete. The fact that we can say He completed climbing Everest and He completed climbing a mountain is evidence that climb Everest and climb a mountain are telic VPs, and the fact that we can't (normally) say ?He completed climbing shows that climb is an atelic VP.

The second test is that telic VPs can, unlike atelic VPs, be used in the construction It takes/took/has taken/had taken . . . . to VP in such a way that the measure phrase measures the length of the situation. Thus we can have It took him two days to climb the mountain, but not It took him two days to climb; the latter would have to mean that the speaker required two days to begin climbing, whether for lack of motivation or for some other reason.

Let's return, then, to the cat and the tree. Climb the tree is a telic VP, as can be seen by the fact that we can say The cat completed climbing the tree (it made it to the top) and It took the cat thirty seconds to climb the tree. In contrast, climb up the tree is an atelic VP, as can be seen by the fact that it sounds strange to say ?The cat completed climbing up the tree and ?It took the cat five minutes to climb up the tree (presumably, it pondered the climbing at length).

Of course, I am presupposing that up the tree is a prepositional phrase indicating the direction of the climbing. I worry, however, that there may be an alternative parsing on which up is an adverbial particle forming a phrasal verb with climb, such that climb up can itself be taken to be a verb with a direct object: the tree. If that parsing is possible, then this would undermine atelicity and vindicate those who believe this discussion to be pointless here.
 

jutfrank

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Yes to everything, Phaedrus.

I agree that the sentence The cat is climbing up the tree can be read in both ways.

One of the complicated things about lexical aspect is that interpretation is mediated by conjunction with grammatical aspect. Perfective aspect biases toward telic readings and progressive aspect biases toward atelic readings.
 
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