My friend Elizabeth wrote to me the other day asking for a clarification of the words farther and further. I am happy to oblige.
Let's start with a quiz so you can recognize your use of the two words.
1. Jeff cycled farther/further than I did.
2. Jeff's views are farther/further from mine than I had realized.
3. The diagram appears farther/further down the page.
4. The diagram gives farther/further information.
5. Let's take this discussion a bit farther/further.
6. Let's walk a bit farther/further.
Was it easy for you to choose? Apply this rule, and see if any of your answers change:
Use farther for physical distance; use further for other situations.
When I apply that rule my answers are:
Farther in 1, 3, 6. Further in 2, 4, 5.
Although many people use further even for physical distance, nearly all the style manuals on my bookshelf recommend or describe a distinction between the two words, with farther indicating actual distance and further used for figurative distance and to indicate "additional."
I consulted these style guides:
- The Chicago Manual of Style
- The Associated Press Stylebook
- The Canadian Press Stylebook
- The Gregg Reference Manual
- Garner's Modern American Usage
Garner points out that "further is typically both physical and figurative" in British English, "whereas farther is physical only." He also notes that "Both are comparative degrees of far, but they have undergone differentiation."
- Fowler's Modern English Usage
This volume offers the most exhaustive (11 paragraphs) but least conclusive discussion. Fowler ends the discussion this way: "Further changes may well occur in the 21st century, with the likelihood that further and furthest will continue to be the dominant forms in most varieties of English."
After reading this information, do you feel further along in your understanding? Do you agree with the prevailing view?
P.S. My booklet "60 Quick Word Fixes" explains many confusing word pairs.