I forget why I decided that this would be my topic for the week. I probably had an email I was writing and trying to figure out which word to use when I experienced a brain drain so severe I rewrote the sentence to avoid using either word. Here’s the good news – further and farther essentially mean the same thing (at a greater distance), but there are some specific guidelines to follow for correct grammatical usage.
Here’s an easy way to remember which to use when referring to that greater distance:
- Physical distance = farther
Example #1 – “I rode my bike 25 miles today, which is farther than I’ve ever gone before.”
- Metaphorical or figurative distance = further
Example – “She was the first woman in her family to graduate college, taking her education further than anyone else had.”
What if it’s not 100% related to physical or figurative distance? Let’s say that my book club’s latest choice is to read War and Peace. The following month, at least half of us haven’t finished the book by the time we meet to discuss. Since we still want to talk about the book, we want to know where everyone has ended up, so we ask each person for an update. How would we ask that question?
“How much further do you have to go?” meaning the figurative distance in the story? Or would you say, “How much farther do you have to go?” meaning the physical number of pages left to read?
Thankfully, resources like the Oxford English Dictionary and Fowler’s Modern American Usage give us some leeway in using further/farther interchangeably, particularly if the distinction isn’t clear (number of pages versus where you ended up in the storyline). If you are still unsure on which word to use, you can’t go wrong with using further, according to Grammarist. I think that wraps things up pretty nicely, so I don’t see a need to go any further.
Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.