It’s a conundrum of the English language. Is that store further or farther away? What’s the difference? How can you even tell which is the right word to use? Or are they the same thing after all?

Further and farther are two of the most notoriously confused words in the English language. With only a one letter difference, it’s no surprise that most people think they can be used interchangeably. But there is a difference between them, and if you want to show your smarts, you’ll need to know when to use each.

Knowing the distance

Further and farther technically refer to the same thing—distance. That’s why so many people don’t know how to distinguish between them. After all, how much difference can one letter make? A lot, actually.

Farther is used to describe tangible distance. In other words, distance when it comes to a physical area. You use it when you’re giving directions — go a little farther down the road — or when you’re asking how much farther before you get to your destination. If you have kids, you’ll probably find this one easy to remember after a long trip.

Further is meant for figurative distance, or distance you can’t physically measure. For example, you could tell your kid not to push his limits any further or you can discontinue your subscription until further notice. The distance to the end of your patience, for example, isn’t something you can figure out with a ruler.

Here’s a trick to help you remember how to use further vs. farther. If you’re traveling, you’re going far and that’s a measurable distance driving, walking, or flying. That’s when you’re going farther. Also, if you can use the generic word “more” in place of the word you chose, chances are it’s supposed to be further.

Are there exceptions?

Of course. As with nearly all English language rules, there are times when this information won’t save you. Sometimes distance is both tangible and intangible. You could say, “I’ve read further ahead than he has” when referring to a story, and you could say "I've read farther ahead than he has."

In this case, you have the number of pages in the book, which you can physically quantify. You also have the symbolic distance in the story that can’t be measured with any number. In cases like these, pick your choice and stay consistent.

Then there are situations where you can use both words, but the meaning will change. Saying “I won’t go any further” and “I won’t go any farther” both make sense, but the word choice changes the meaning.

“I won’t go any further” — You might be in a classroom where the teacher won’t move on with the lesson until everyone understands.

“I won’t go any farther” — This could be someone refusing to walk across town.

The whole point of language is to communicate. Knowing the difference between two similar words cuts down on the possibility of misunderstanding. It saves time and confusion, with an added bonus where you sound like you know what you’re talking about. If you’re ever confused, think: is the distance real or imaginary?