A few weeks ago when I posted on the difference between conscious and conscience, Dana and Judy mentioned another troublesome pair: further and farther. Well ladies, I’m here to clear up your confusion.
Maybe. These words have been used interchangeably for hundreds of years. No wonder we mix them up! Looking up their definitions doesn’t help much.
Farther – from Middle English ferther
- Adverb: at a greater distance; to a greater degree (farther down the hall)
- Adjective: more distant (he dreamed of traveling to farther lands)
Further –from Middle English further
- Adverb: farther, to a greater extent (Mom was further irritated by the interruption)
- Verb: to promote or move forward (He worked hard to further his education)
- Adjective: going or extending beyond; additional (We aimed for the further hills)
- Sentence modifier: Further, I have no intention of giving you the car.
But Webster’s Dictionary and Grammar Girl gave me a few tips to keep them straight.
When you’re talking about physical distance, use farther.
(Memory trick: “far” is in “farther”.)
- My goal was to run farther on the trail than I ever had before.
When you’re describing figurative distance, use further.
- I will not discuss this with you further.
If you’re not sure, or physical distance isn’t clear (as in before we go any farther with this plan), use further. But don’t sweat it. Many reputable grammar resources, such as the Oxford English Dictionary, say it’s okay to use the words interchangeably.
So, Judy and Dana, you’re off the hook!
What other word pairs give you trouble? I might use your suggestion for another post! We can all learn together.
Be sure to check out my piece on the difference between e.g and i.e.