Farther, Further: What’s the Difference?

By Maeve Maddox

Some authorities offer differentiated meanings for farther and further, but the short answer to the question of which to use for what is that you can just take your choice.

The word farther is a comparative of far. Your house is farther from the school than ours.

The word further comes from an Old English word meaning “to impel.” We still use the word further as a verb: He gives frequent speeches in order to further his cause
.
As adverbs, both have come to mean “at a greater distance.”
How much farther is it to the station?
I’m too tired to walk any further.

The OED says

In standard English the form farther is usually preferred where the word is intended to be the comparative of far, while further is used where the notion of far is altogether absent

It concedes, however, that “there is a large intermediate class of instances in which the choice between the two forms is arbitrary.”

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary,

There is no historical basis for the notion that farther is of physical distance and further of degree or quality.

As long ago as 1926 H.W. Fowler (A Dictionary of Modern English Usage) observed:

The fact is surely that hardly anyone uses the two words for different occasions; most people prefer one or the other for all purposes, and the preference of the majority is for further.

Differentiating between farther and further as adverbs could be useful. We could use farther only when actual distance is involved and save further for other uses. But as Fowler observed, most people are not going to use the words in that way.

About all one can say is that, as adverbs, farther and further are interchangeable. As a verb, further is the preferable form.

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25 Responses to “Farther, Further: What’s the Difference?”

  • ayahshiva

    hhmmm…..
    i see now

  • Chippy

    Thank you very much! šŸ™‚ I always preferred using further, but usually when reading novels and articles I’ve noticed the usage of ‘farther’ more.
    I have two questions which I hope you can help me with. The first being, is it grammatically correct to say for instance, ‘that’ in this clause: ‘two questions that I hope you can help me with’, can I use ‘that’ instead of ‘which’ ? I don’t know if it may be from British English, as that’s what I grew up on using.
    Secondly, I am a bit embarrassed to ask this, but when do I use these : & ; ?

  • Mari

    Chippy, why use either “that” or “which” at all? I’d prefer “which”, but if you read the sentence aloud, neither are necessary.

  • Ann

    Good article.
    According to the article, these below two expressions are both
    correct?

    For further information, please contact ~
    For farther information, please contact ~

  • Ann

    further also means “to extend” as a verb.
    could you give some more examples of further as a verb?

  • ILP

    interesting…
    i’ve never really paid attention, but now that you’ve brought it to my attention….

    i’ll look for it.

    thanks.

  • Maeve

    Ann,
    No, “For farther information” would not be correct.
    That would have to be “for further information.”

    As a verb — One would further one’s aims. Further one’s interests.

  • PreciseEdit

    We typically use “further” as a verb and to demonstrate progressions of concepts, saving “farther” for comparative distances.

    For example:
    You will further your cause if you stop shouting. Furthermore, your shouts carry farther than mine.

    Regarding “that” and “which”: you might be interested in our article on that topic, which is available at http://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1324002. This article is also included in our training manual, which is available for purchase from our website.

  • Limey

    more information, I found that “further” is used in British English, where “farther” is used in “American English”. both are comparative forms. We can say “my house is farther (further) than yours. But we can’t say “let me know if you hear farther information”. we say “let me know if you hear further information”. Am I correct?please let me know.

  • Maeve

    Limey,
    An American might say either
    “My house is farther than yours.”
    or
    “My house is further than yours.”

    but “I’m waiting for farther information” is totally unidiomatic on both sides of the pond.

  • olaitan hassan

    i will just want to know all the various types of adjectives. Thanks

  • Tom D

    I personally differentiate between the two on tense, I use farther for past tense.

    I got farther than you.

    I’ll get further than you.

    He run farther than him, he will run further.

    I retrieved farther information. (Hmmmm)

  • Marton

    English is bizarre. Hard to pin down, very easy to pick up, though, which is why it has become a lingua franca. One thing is interesting, though. Some things just “sound right” even if they are technically wrong. In my work, I often face people who are English-speakers, but they apparently signed some covenant with Miss Wiggledybottom, their first-grade teacher, that they would follow her every rule religiously and smite anyone not complying. What they then produce is correct (at times), but sounds dull beyond belief.

  • Sandeep

    I quite like this short definition which I remember reading from an old issue of Reader’s Digest:

    Further : Distance on your mind.

    Farther : Distance on your feet.

  • Daisy

    So…

    Iā€™m too tired to walk any farther/further.

    He refused to continue his speech any farther. Is this okay?

  • John

    As my 9-year-old son pointed out to his teacher, the spelling is also different. One word starts with “fart”.

  • Snugglewaffle

    Is it “the gerbil couldn’t go any further up my bum” or “the gerbil couldn’t go any farther up my bum” when talking about gerbil activities?

  • AnWulf

    I’ll have to disagree with Etymology Online … It’s a great site but there are errors … or at least shades of gray. He says that it is a variant of further … MAYBE! He also also says that it replaced ferrer as the comparative for far … There ya so!

    Further didn’t derive from far …

    Soooo, I agree with Sandeep … If I can get there on my feet, it’s farther. FURTHERMORE, if I get there with my mind, it’s further.

  • AnWulf

    That should be “There ya go!”

    I shouldn’t type on an empty stomach …

  • Dennis Callaghan

    To paraphrase C.J. Dennis: if ”furva” doesn’t spell ”further”, what does it spell? (Similarly ”farva” and ”farther”.)

  • Farther is physical, further is metaphorical or figurative.

    When you can’t tell which, it doesn’t matter, as when it’s ambiguous either works.

  • Jeff K

    It seems to me we can use the term “Further” in near all circumstances than “Farther” if not more.

    1. I threw the ball farther/further than you.

    2. The further (farther possibly?) I go, the tired I get.

    3. I can’t think any further.

    I can someone please provide an example where the term “Further” cannot be used?

  • Dale A. Wood

    To Jeff K: Please read Maeve’s comment of March 26, 2008, above.

    When you wish to ask a question, it is advisable to READ the comments that have been posted previously simply because there is a good chance that your question has already been answered there.

    Likewise, in this and some other articles, there are examples of when “further” is a poor choice.
    D.A.W.

  • Margie Early

    I like what Sandeep said ~

    Further: distance on your mind

    Farther: distance on you feet

    This helped me as I was checking the use of the word further in a sentence I wrote
    “We will talk about this at a further time” I don’t recall ever using the word but it seemed right at the time. Looking at it now perhaps I could have used “later”, but to me that infers sooner than further.

  • Sunny

    Which one is correct ?
    I’ll let you know the way further
    Or
    I’ll let you know the further way
    Please let me know the difference.

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