I do understand the distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs, but for this English speaker there seems to a real difference between "tu as descendu le cadeau" or "j’ai descendu les boîtes" versus "j’ai descendu les escaliers". You don’t "do" anything (like carrying it down or getting it down) to the staircase/ladder/beanstalk! I’m not sure if the French view the two situations identically or whether it’s just idiomatic to descend something with steps or rungs using the transitive form ?
I think English is the same. It's just grammatical; if there's a direct object it's transitive, otherwise it's intransitive. It doesn't matter that you're not having an effect on the object, and the same action can be either transitive or intransitive depending on the verb you choose.
"I descended the stairs." (transitive)
"I went down the stairs." (intransitive)
And even the verb "to take down" has the same double meaning in English as it does in French:
I'll take these boxes down. -- I can take him down when I have a clear shot.
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