Shall We Go Further, or Farther?

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?

Lynn
Syntax Training

P.S. My booklet "60 Quick Word Fixes" explains many confusing word pairs.

 

 

 

12 COMMENTS

  1. For some reason I’ll only use farther for physical distances that have some measurement:
    ‘Jeff cycled a mile farther than I did’ works for me, whereas
    ‘Jeff cycled further than I did’ feels more natural than farther.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Suzanne-Jeanne, George, Conchita, Victor, Sofia, James, and Lisa Marie. I appreciate your input!

    Sofia, you make an interesting distinction. My concern about your approach is that you might have sentences with “further” and “farther” used the same way in a piece of writing, and readers might be perplexed about the distinction. If you can avoid using both words in a piece, your use should be acceptable.

    Lynn

  3. Michaela and Andreas, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

    Andreas, I guess you have it easy in German when it comes to “farther” and “further.” Some English speakers use just one word, “further,” as you do in German. I clicked your link, and I learned that “weiter” has quite a few meaings. I suppose “further” does too.

    Lynn

  4. Lynn, in my experience German has less specialised words in daily use and the context-sensitivity of words is higher.
    (The context sensitivity might be a reason why German needs more words to describe something since its necessary to establish context.)

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