Commonly Confused Words: Further Vs. Farther

by | Sep 16, 2019 | Commonly Confused Words, GrammarSpot, Writing Tips | 0 comments

Commonly Confused Words: Further Vs. Farther

by | Sep 16, 2019 | Commonly Confused Words, GrammarSpot, Writing Tips | 0 comments

Hither, thither and yon; why and wherefore: The confusion surrounding further vs. farther seems like it might fall into the same category of antiquated, stuffy discussions as these do. Surprisingly, the wherefore of this particular confusion is actually the opposite.

The hubbub surrounding choosing further or farther is probably because the split is relatively new. Apparently, people used to use the terms interchangeably much more often.


Using ‘Further’ vs. ‘Farther’ in a Nutshell

Here’s the current difference between further and farther: You should use further when talking about non-measurable advancement, and when looking for a verb to discuss distance. Farther is used as a comparative term for far when you want to talk about physical, metaphorical or figurative distance.

when to use further vs farther


Comparing Old and New Usage

As mentioned above, the divide wasn’t always so pronounced. Take Shakespeare’s writing from a mere 400 years ago. There are plenty of uses of further and farther in his complete works, but not much of a pattern as to how they were used in relation to the physical and non-physical dichotomy. Maybe he chose which word to use based on how fancy the character was? There’s probably a master’s thesis in there somewhere.

In any case, it’s probable that neither the role of great queen Cleopatra nor that of powerful sorcerer Prospero would have been written to include grammar mistakes. Yet here are some examples of those same characters mixing up the usages, at least by contemporary standards.

  • Cleopatra says to Mark Anthony, “Pray you, stand further from me.” That’s way harsh, ‘Pats.
  • Prospero says to Miranda, “‘Tis time I should inform you farther.”

Putting Shakespeare aside for a moment and moving back to present day, these two terms have some very distinct rules surrounding them.


Choosing Between ‘Further’ and ‘Farther’

In some situations, you can pick further with no second thought and no discussion. For example, it’s the only appropriate choice when you want a verb.

  • They tried to further a clandestine agenda.
  • She would go on to further the advancement of science throughout her lifetime.


Meaning “More”

If you can switch in more, additional or higher-level, then further is probably a good choice. In this sense, it’s typically used for things you can’t measure, such as ideas.

  • We request further information.
  • I would like to avoid any further delays.
  • He went on to further success.
  • If there are no further questions, we will adjourn.
  • Let’s talk further.


Modifying Sentences

It’s pretty fancy, but you could use further to introduce additional ideas or arguments that supported something you just said. It’s a wee touch more casual than the related term, furthermore. You can use it to modify a sentence or clause just like you’d use additionally or moreover.

  • Further, they had no business being in Texas.
  • We don’t like cookies and, further, we won’t eat them.
  • Further, our investigations have turned up nothing.


Generally, farther applies to length, depth and so on. If you can measure what you’re talking about, farther will be a safe choice. Of course, you may have to break out your metaphorical ruler sometimes.

  • It was farther along towards midnight than we had expected.
  • Her dreams led her farther along the path to success than any education could have.
  • Mike Powell jumps farther than anyone.

For situations other than those, you may have to depend on current conventions. If you’re a business writer, your client or your company may have provided you with a custom style guide that has something to say on this subject.


Leaving Further Comments

When it comes down to further vs. farther, it turns out there are indeed a few situations in which only one is correct. However, you could take a cue from Shakespeare and think about your voice — especially if you’re a professional freelancer. Certain target markets might balk at further and relate to farther, for example. In any case, please head on down to the comment section for further discussion.

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John Bishop

John Bishop is a poet and a marketing writer for the legal and real estate professions.
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