Luke Taylor

Grammar Grater®

with Luke Taylor

Episode 44: Further/Farther Falderal

This week, we're trying to take the confusion out of the words further and farther. Mary Jo from Antigo, Wisc. wrote to us and asked, "Are there rules about when you use further and when you use farther?"

Many sources say that, when referring to actual, measurable distances, the two words are interchangeable.
The ball rolled further into the alley.
The ball rolled farther into the alley.
Both of the above examples are correct. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary entry for farther says that it is a variation of the word further. So when talking about physical distances, using either word is fine, but it's best to stick with it once one is chosen.

But to answer Mary Jo's question more directly, the short answer is, yes, there are rules. There are instances where further has some specific uses. For example:
The city council decided the annexation proposal deserved further discussion.
In this instance, the word means "beyond or in addition to what has already been done." This definition is unique to further. Using farther not only would be incorrect, it'd sound strange, too:
The city council decided the annexation proposal deserved farther discussion.
Further also means "additional." As in the example:
For further information, please visit our Web site.
That's the letter of the law in a nutshell. However, the difference between further and farther is one instance where keeping things simple is probably a writer's best bet.

One way never to go wrong is to reserve farther for instances that refer to physical distance and further for when the distance is conceptual.
Alicia threw the shot put 10 feet farther than Jane did.
Those additional 10 feet that the shot put traveled are a physical distance and can be measured. Therefore, reserving farther for this instance is appropriate.

Use further when referring to any spaces that can't be measured quantitatively.
That could not be further from the truth.
If all else fails, just remember, farther can't be spelled without the word "far" and "far" refers to physical distance.

Sources: Oxford Dictionary of Current English.

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