F Words: When to Use Further vs. Farther

2 min read

It’s a conundrum. Is that store further or farther away? What’s the difference? Or are they the same thing?

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

Going the Distance

"Further" and "farther" both technically refer to the same thing — distance.

"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 three blocks farther"), or when you’re asking how much farther you have to go before you get to your destination. Kids in the backseat can correctly ask, "How much farther?"

"Further" is meant for figurative distance, or distance without an exact measure. For example, you can tell your hiking buddy that it's just a little bit further, or you can discontinue your subscription until further notice. The journey to the satisfaction achieved at the top of a mountain, for example, isn’t something you can figure out with a ruler.

Here’s a trick to help you remember when to use "further" or "farther." If the distance is literAl, you use the word with an "a" — "farther." If you're talking about a figUrative distance, it's "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 also correctly say, "I've read farther 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, take your pick and stay consistent.

Then there are situations where you can use both words, but the meaning will change. “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 of you sounding like you know what you’re talking about. If you’re ever confused, think: Is the distance literal (farther) or figurative (further)?

Photo credit: Taneli Lahtinen/ Unsplash

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