Further or Farther?

I’ve always thought I knew the difference between further and farther. You could further a discussion or further a career, but you had to go farther if you wanted to get anywhere.

That’s what I thought, but I’ve heard and seen the two used almost interchangeably, not only with new writers, but also with seasoned writers, highly educated speakers, and those less adept with the English language.

So I decided to see what Webster had to say. (I’m using the Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.) Webster, it seems, has several definitions for further. There’s the adverb that means in addition, moreover, or to a greater degree or extent. When further is used as a verb, it indicates to help forward or advance, and used as an adjective, the word indicates going or extending beyond.

But wait, isn’t that last one farther?

Sure enough, Webster says (right after the adverb and adjective definition) that you can also use farther in these cases.

So I looked up farther.

Farther, according to Webster, when used as an adverb indicates at a distance or a more advanced point. As an adjective it stands for more distant, remote. And farthest is at the greatest distance.

I’d still be confused (and maybe I still am), but there’s a note included with the farther definitions regarding usage. It seems further and farther have been used more or less interchangeably throughout most of history. BUT—and I think it’s this “but” that has influenced me—currently they’re showing signs of diverging, and when there’s no notion of distance further is used while farther is used to indicate distance. Back to further when we need to go no further.

So I’m right.

Or maybe I’m not.

Whether you use one or the other, even if it doesn’t sound right to me, according to Webster, you’re probably correct. Therefore, for all of those writers whose work I’ve critiqued and where I’ve stated the word further (or maybe it was farther) was incorrectly used—I apologize.

Moreover, I’ll take this discussion no further.

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15 Responses to Further or Farther?

  1. Sue Myers says:

    I keep all your helpful hints. Thank you so much!

  2. Great post, Maris. To further illustrate, my house is farther down the road than yours. Or not. I’m confused. LOL!
    The other duo that can be just as confusing is then and than. To me, there’s a big difference, but I see it interchanged often. What’s a writer to do?

  3. Melissa Keir says:

    Great blog! It really gives us a feeling of how our language is changing!

  4. Things are always changing and I try to go with the flow, but this just confuses me, lol. And just when I thought I had it! Will definitely keep trying 🙂

    • Maris SouleMaris Soule says:

      I’m not always happy with the changes. I’m still an all right person rather than an alright person, but I have stopped correcting the word(s) when I see them in another writer’s ms.

  5. Paula Geister says:

    Remember in the Movie, “Finding Forrester” when the really intelligent young man stands up in class and humiliates the stodgy and arrogant teacher (F. Murray Abraham) by correcting him on further and farther? It was classic. Of course, he got kicked out of class.. but it was still a great scene.

  6. Great scene in Findinf Forrester! Here’s the link: http://youtu.be/iA4Vj-Q3HX4 – and I agree with your definitions. Another pair I see misused is affect vs. effect.

    • Maris SouleMaris Soule says:

      Thanks, Patty. I went to the site and watched the video. That is a great scene. I still have trouble with affect and effect. I think I know when to use each, but I’m not 100% sure.

  7. Kathy/ C. K. Crouch says:

    I understand the confusion. But I always understood it as farther (see the word far there) meant down the road more. And that further was to increase like you said you further the discussion ir your career.
    Then and than are pet peeves with me. Than is comparing and then is time. I think accents may create the confusion. Affect is her mind was affected by her age. OR Her young age created the effect of wildness.

  8. C. K. Crouch (Kathy) says:

    I understand the confusion. But I always understood it as farther (see the word far there) meant down the road more. And that further was to increase like you said you further the discussion ir your career.
    Then and than are pet peeves with me. Than is comparing and then is time. I think accents may create the confusion. Affect is her mind was affected by her age. OR Her young age created the effect of wildness.

  9. Maris, I’m with you on both further vs. farther, and all right vs. alright. I don’t think you can go wrong with the more “traditional” usage when it comes to language.

    • Maris SouleMaris Soule says:

      Thanks, Julie. A friend and I were talking about this tonight, how we often laugh at the errors in spelling and usage that we see on TV, in the newspapers, and on Facebook, but it also makes us sad. It hurts our ears/eyes to hear or see the incorrect word or usage, but children aren’t getting the grammar instruction that used to be taught, and we wonder where the language will be in a few more decades.