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What's the difference between

Я схожу вниз по лестнице/ по трапу.

and

Я спускаюсь вниз по лестнице/ по трапу.

Are there any subtle differences in meaning?

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Not so much in meaning as in register with схожу being vernacular and thus of lower register.

Semantically they in principle could differ because схожу means walk down while спускаюсь means descend which can be performed by means other than walking.

But practically in everyday use more often than not спускаюсь implies descend by means of walking, because this is the most common way of descending physically. And certainly when it's a descent down the stairs.

There's difference in my view between shades of meaning of these words in different tenses in the context of descending down the stairs. The perfective aspect of сходить in the past and future tenses (сошёл, сойду) tends to emphasize the manner of descending, that is by walking, therefore if there's no need to stress this detail спустился and спущусь would sound more appropriate as they're neutral in this respect.

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    what’s vernacular and low about e. g. “Моряк сошёл на берег?” – Roman Odaisky Apr 11 '18 at 23:05
  • "Моряк сошёл с ума" ;) – Alexander Apr 11 '18 at 23:06
  • the OP gave a specific context, where the verb сходить is a synonym of спускаться, in that specific context it is of a lower register, there're other specific cases where it's register isn't low, like those mentioned in the comments, but in these cases сходить is NOT a synonym of спускаться and cannot be replaced with it – Баян Купи-ка Apr 12 '18 at 6:55
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    Сходить is not necessarily about descending, and it refers to the fact of leaving some place which must be present in the context (the imaginary train in your example). It is OK сходить с корабля по горизонтально положенному трапу, not to mention trivial cases with perfective verb forms where type of motion doesn't matter at all. – Alex_ander Apr 12 '18 at 10:25
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    Когда он сходил с эскалатора, шедшего вверх, он споткнулся и упал. No idea of descending here. – Alex_ander Apr 14 '18 at 5:15

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