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Further vs Farther

Further and farther are two words that look and sound very similar and which have almost identical meanings. For that reason, it’s easy to get them mixed up in both speech and writing. In short, further and farther both mean to a greater distance or extent. However, farther means a greater distance in a literal, physical sense i.e. it can be measured, whereas further is a greater figurative or metaphorical distance. Both words can be used as adverbs or adjectives.

Frankly, mixing them up is probably not the biggest mistake you can make, as the rules around further and farther have become something of a gray area in modern language. But knowing the difference and using the words correctly is nevertheless important.

Definitions

The simple definitions of further and farther are both terms that mean more far, which is a grammatically incorrect phrase (that’s why we use further/farther) but does offer a succinct explanation of the definitions.

Anyway, let’s look at the common dictionary definitions:

  • Farther = (adverb/adjective) at or to a greater distance or more advanced point.
  • Further = (adverb/adjective) to a greater degree or extent.

So, it’s quite easy to understand.

Farther means more advanced in the sense of physical distance:

  • We will travel 10 miles farther on the highway, then we will stop.
  • How much farther to New York, Dad?
  • The farther north we go, the colder it gets.

Further means more distance in the sense of non-physical/metaphorical distance:

  • We will go no further with this conversation.
  • The family plunged further into debt that year.
  • I’d like to go a little further into the details tomorrow.

Following the examples and differences between further and farther above is quite simple, but we can run into two main problems:

  1. It’s not always clear when we mean a physical or non-physical distance.

For example, if you are reading a book, and wanted to read more, would you be reading further or farther? You could, perhaps, argue for both cases, as you are travelling metaphorically through the book, but also moving down the page and passages, which is technically a physical distance. It’s certainly tricky:

  • We got no farther than the third page, then gave up.
  • I will go no further with James Joyce’s Ulysses – it’s obscene.

Both examples are correct, but they also enter a gray area, one that linguists could debate about for days. In that sense, it’s not worth worrying too much when there is doubt over further and farther.

  1. Dictionaries and style guides sometimes give further and farther the same definitions and rules.
  • “My ponies are tired, and I have further to go.”
  • “See to it that I don’t have to act any farther in the matter.”

Both those examples – they are quotes from Thomas Hardy and Bernard DeVoto – are taken from the Merriam Webster dictionary. But, if we were to use the rules of farther and further discussed earlier, wouldn’t these be considered incorrect? The answer is yes, up to a point. Hardy was a British writer, and the use of further is much more flexible in British English than American English. But it also serves to highlight the fluidity of language, and the fact that some celebrated writers will consider the choice between further and farther as a question of style.

When to Use Further?

  1. While we have pointed out some of the complexities and gray areas above, the common rule is to use further when speaking of a figurative or non-physical distance. Consider the statement below:
    • John will go far in life, but David, who is smarter, will go  further. However, Jenny is a genius, and will go furthest of all the children.

    When using further here, it is clear we are not talking about a physical distance, but a metaphorical one linked to achievement.

    Examples of Further

    Further is mostly used as an adverb to indicate an abstract distance:

    • Congress will proceed no further with the bill until after the election.
    • Don’t go any further with Shakespeare’s later works until you have read Macbeth.
    • The fear was that Iran and Iraq would plunge further into conflict.

    Further can also be used as an adjective to mean going beyond or additional:

    • For further reading on the subject, have a look at these articles.
    • I will give you some further instructions on the matter after dinner.
    • The actor’s performance raised further doubts about his talents.

    Further can also be used as a verb, meaning to help forward or promote:

    • I furthered my knowledge of French by reading Le Monde each day I was in Paris.
    • Mandela gave an electrifying speech, furthering the hopes of a divided nation.

    Finally, further can also be used as an adverb but in the sense of meaning moreover or in addition. In this case, further and furthermore are interchangeable:

    • Further to what you said earlier, I would also like to add an amendment.

    Further, there are greens, yellows, blues and a host of wonderful colors to consider for the bridesmaids’ dresses.

When to use Farther?

 

As we have seen, farther is used when we are speaking of a physical distance, one that can be measured. Consider once again the statement below:

  • John will go far in this hike, but David, who has just started training for his trip to Everest, will probably go farther. However, Jenny is the most experienced hiker and will undoubtedly go farthest up the mountain.

It is clear here that we are talking about a measurable distance, thus using farther as we are not talking about a figurative one.

Examples of Farther

Farther is mostly used as an adverb to indicate something is at a greater distance or more advanced point:

  • Which is farther from here, Tokyo or Sydney?
  • I’d like to walk one mile farther today, but I’m too tired.
  • She refused to go one step farther until she had a drink.

Farther can also be used as an adjective to describe something that is more remote:

  • The cinema is on the farther side of town.
  • It was farther to the end of the field than it seemed.
  • The Celts were from farther north than the Saxons.

Important note: Farther is not used as a verb in the same manner as further, nor is it used to mean in addition like further/furthermore.

Tips

How to remember the difference between further and farther? Most grammarians recommend focusing on the word far, which helps you remember that farther indicates physical distance.

However, remembering the rule is quite easy, but the difficulty tends to come with deciding whether to use farther or further when it’s not clear if it is addressing physical or abstract distances.

Basically, if you are really in doubt, you should use further. The reason is that farther is a little more inflexible in its meaning than further. For example, while we could correctly say things like further down the road and further up the mountain, saying things like farther your education or farther to what you said earlier are incorrect.

In the end, it’s not a huge deal if you mix them up. Indeed, some great writers and publications refuse to differentiate between further and farther, making it a question of style rather than grammar. It’s a moot point in British English, as further is almost always preferred, but knowing the difference in American English can still be important.

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