Culminate

In Oxford Dictionary, there is only one definition of "culminate" ,which is " reach a climax or point of the highest development". So culminate doesn't mean “end” according to this dictionary. However, Many dictionaries including "Oxford Advanced English Dictionary" define the word as "to end with a particular result, or at a particular point ". Two dictionaries gave two different definitions, which is really confusing.

Answers

  • DavidCrosbieDavidCrosbie ✭✭✭
    edited September 18

    The parent of all Oxford dictionaries, the OED, gives four definitions

    1. intransitive. Astronomy. Of a heavenly body: To reach its greatest altitude, to be on the meridian.
    2. gen. To reach its highest point or summit, as a mountain-chain, etc.; to rise to an apex or summit. Const. in.
    3. fig. (Chiefly from 1.) To reach its acme, or highest development. Const. in, to.
    4. transitive. To bring (a thing) to its highest point, to form the summit of; to crown.

    The meaning in the Oxford dictionary that you consulted is taken from OED meaning 3.

    It doesn't explicitly identify the culmination point as final. Indeed, it used to be possible to speaking of culminating then descending.

    However, it seems that nowadays we culminate only when looking backwards. The climax is seen as a final state. Here are the examples from the Online Oxford Dictionary

    ‘weeks of violence culminated in the brutal murder of a magistrate’
    ‘A remarkable clean-up effort culminated last month in the release of brown trout.’
    ‘Such thoughts reduce self-esteem which leads to depression and which can finally culminate in suicide.’
    ‘The film culminates in an incredibly enjoyable finale, one of the finest of its type.’
    ‘You asked for details of the review process culminating in the Home Secretary's decision.’
    ‘The deployment phase of the project recently culminated in cross-cultural awareness training assisted by local rangers.’
    ‘The three legs would culminate in a national final here in December.’
    ‘Similar things happened across Europe and it all culminated in the great radicalisation of 1968.’
    ‘Michelle had a very difficult labour, which eventually culminated in an emergency Caesarian delivery.’
    ‘The quarter and semi-finals will then be held in London and will culminate in the nail-biting national final.’
    ‘From there the whirlwind events culminate in the discovery of the killer's identity.’
    ‘Why did it have to culminate in a murder?’
    ‘Senescence represents the last stage of flower development, ultimately culminating in the death of the petals.’
    ‘All matches will culminate in the finals on Thursday next, December 19.’
    ‘The event will culminate in a spectacular finale.’
    ‘Every night ended up with the two of them exchanging insults, often culminating with her storming upstairs.’
    ‘Convocation will culminate on Saturday with the graduation of students from the mathematics and engineering faculties.’
    ‘Their high-profile negative campaign culminated in a march.’
    ‘The day finally culminated in going out to a nice restaurant with my friend Linda.’
    ‘Today this campaign culminated in a mass rally in London.’
    ‘All this, you know if you did Othello in high school, culminates in murder and suicide.’

    Now although these sentences all describe endings, they're not just any endings. We can't say

    weeks of violence culminated in a day of boring inactivity
    ‘A remarkable clean-up effort culminated last month in a day off for the staff.’
    ‘Such thoughts reduce self-esteem which leads to depression and which can finally culminate in thinking about something else.’

    I suspect the other dictionary you quote is the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary. Certainly another dictionary for similar learners, Collins COBUILD, gives a similar definition

    If you say that an activity, process, or series of events culminates in or with a particular event, you mean that event happens at the end of it.

    For a foreign student of English, it's really useful to know that if you write end instead of culminate, you can understand a sentence. For example

    ‘weeks of violence ended in the brutal murder of a magistrate’
    ‘A remarkable clean-up effort ended last month in the release of brown trout.’
    ‘Such thoughts reduce self-esteem which leads to depression and which can finally end in suicide.’

    But 'end' isn't the meaning. It has become part of the meaning. Certainly end doesn't always men 'culminate'. We can say

    It ended in a compromise
    but not
    It culminated in a compromise
    The match ended in a stalemate
    but not
    The match culminated in a stalemate

    "to end with a particular result, or at a particular point "

    helps learners to understand the word, but it's not a good definition.

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