Go farther to get further. Or is is the other way around?


I was working on a story and came to a screeching halt, confused about whether I should use “further” or “farther”. I went out on the Internet to research. (Links I used are listed at the end.) These words are quite often confused. I am never completely sure. (Neither is anyone else from what I am reading).

Let’s take a look at the meanings for these two words.

FARTHER refers to physical advancement in length or distance— the comparative form of the word “far” when it denotes distance – an actual physical distance.

FURTHER denotes advancement to greater extent or degree, as in time—additional or additionally. It is the comparative form of the word “far” when meaning “much.”

So, would you say:

(1)  Farther down the road or further?

(2)  Do you read further in the book or farther?

(3)  Further your education?

Answers:

  1. It is farther down the road. (For distance physically traveled.)
  2. You read further in the book. (To a greater degree than where you are now.)
  3. You further your education. (To a greater degree than what you have now.)

Take the following test  (Answer Key at bottom of article.)

  1. How much __________ do you plan to drive tonight?
  2. I’m at the end of my rope with this dog chewing up the carpet. I can’t go any _________.
  3. Do you have any _______________ plans for adding on to the building?
  4. That’s a lot _____________ than I want to carry this machine and tripod!
  5. The ________ that I travel down this road, the ________ behind schedule I get.
  6. How much ___________ do you intend to take this legal matter?
  7. I want to ___________ my career by taking some management courses.
  8. It’s not that much ____________ to the gas station.
  9. How much ____________ do I have to read in this text?
  10. How much __________ do I have to run, Coach?

One quick and dirty tip cited on the links is to “use “farther” for physical distance and “further” for figurative, distance. “Farther” has the word “far” in it, and “far” relates to physical distance.”

Steve Osborne on Writing Rules at The Writers Bag (see link below) says, “The difference between “farther” and “further” is just one little vowel. “ No big deal,” you may be thinking. (Really? Tell that to words like “shut,” “hull” and “batch.”).”

Oops! A vowel can make a very big difference.

He also states, “The world is filled with English teachers who spend their spare moments scouring printed materials for mistakes. When they find slip-ups, they perform ritualistic curses against the writers who are responsible.”

I think he may be a little harsh there, I have known some very nice English teachers. But the point is if you can master the difference, you won’t ever have to find out.

If you can’t decide which one to use, use “further” because “farther” has some restrictions.

In ambiguous cases, resources say it doesn’t matter which word you choose. The Oxford English Dictionary, Fowler’s Modern English Usage(British usage), and a number of other sources say that, in most cases, it’s fine to use “further” and “farther” interchangeably, especially when the distinction isn’t clear.

I read that Garner’s Modern American Usage (1) states that in British English, although it’s more common for speakers to use “farther” for physical distance, they will regularly use either “further” or “farther” for figurative distance.

Finally, if you’re interested in the history of usage, “further” seems to be the older word. Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage (2) says it was 1906 when the first usage guide defined a distinction between “further” and “farther.”

References:

1. Garner, B. Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd Edition. Oxford University Press, 2009.

2. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage. Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 1994.

More examples:

Farther:

Farther shows a relation to physical distance. If you can replace the word farther with “more miles” then you have done it correctly.

  • Our car drove farther than I thought it would on one tank of gas.
  • I wanted to run farther, but I became too exhausted.
  • Our house is farther away from the restaurant than yours.

Further:

Further relates to metaphorical distance or depth. It is a time, degree, or quantity. It is also another way of saying “additional.”

  • I asked that there be further discussion on the matter.
  • I need to look further into the logistics of moving farther from my office building.
  • I hope that gas prices drop further for our road trip vacation.

Links used in this article:

http://www.lessontutor.com/eesfarther.html

http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000213.htm

http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/further-versus-farther.aspx

http://hubpages.com/hub/Grammar_Mishaps__Farther_vs_Further

http://thewritersbag.com/writing-rules/further-or-farther

Answer key:

  1. farther
  2. further
  3. further
  4. farther
  5. farther, further
  6. further
  7. further
  8. farther
  9. further
  10. farther
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