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I know I learned the difference between the usage of farther and further in school, but I can never remember where each one should be used. Can someone help me out here?

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I would suggest never using "futher" –  Nerdling Oct 27 '10 at 2:52
    
@Nerdling Noted, and fixed. :-) –  Chris Dwyer Oct 27 '10 at 4:05
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4 Answers

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Farther is used for distance. Further is used for all other purposes.

Examples:

  • I ran farther than he did.
  • After giving him the gift, I wished to further express my gratitude by hugging him.
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Yes, although further can be used for both. To my ears, at least, farther sounds a little old-fashioned. –  Steve Melnikoff Oct 27 '10 at 9:29
    
@Steve: I agree –  Colin Fine Oct 27 '10 at 11:57
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What about metaphorical distance? As in "I was told to walk a mile in his shoes, but I walked [farther/further]". How about "'Did you get very far?' 'Yes, even [farther/further] than I expected to.'] –  Ray Jun 29 '11 at 0:45
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What about "distance" in time? "Jefferson's presidency was farther/further in the past than Madison's?" –  Greg Mattes Sep 28 '12 at 2:59
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Another source of confusion here is that British English typically allows "further" to be used for both physical distances and figurative distances. So a Briton might say, "I hiked further than he did," and also, "The heat further exacerbated my thirst." In strict American usage, this would be incorrect, but it would sound fine to the British ear. So if you find discrepancies, consider the source (American or British). –  Dan Hauer Oct 15 '12 at 17:00
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"Farther" seems to be one of the many differences of American English. It's not really used in England and the rest of the UK. I have only heard it used by Americans, on television programmes. It is explained further in these links http://english-usage-mcallister.blogspot.co.uk/2006/06/farther-or-further.html and http://random-idea-english.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/q-further-or-farther-british.html

It sounds weird from an English and British perspective.

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Succinctly put:

further refers to degree

farther describes distance

Haven't you seen Finding Forrester? :)

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How is this different from waiwai933's answer? –  Ben Crowell Feb 16 at 0:23
    
It includes a cute reference to a scene from a film that answers exactly this question. –  JacobLW Feb 16 at 3:36
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English originally had "further" as the comparative form of "fore" and "farrer" as the comparative of "far." "Farther" came later, presumably as a back-formation, and has been interchangeable with "further" throughout most of the history of the written language. The differentiation between "further" and "farther" seems to have been invented ca. 1900 by grammarians. It's not a distinction that has ever been widely accepted, and it's not worth fighting to maintain it because it doesn't enrich the language. Because it has never been a natural part of the language, there is not widespread agreement on what criterion should be used to distinguish them: figurative versus literal, or addition versus distance. There is no clear evidence that the best writers have systematically observed the distinction. "Further" can be used literally:

She said the morning was so beautiful that she had walked further than she intended [...] -- Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit, 1844

"Farther" can be used figuratively:

If you can bear your load no farther, say so. Is it manly to bring new sufferings on us all by irritating those whom we cannot resist? -- H. Martineau, The Charmed Sea, 1834

To many people's ears, including mine, the figurative use of "farther" sometimes sounds a little off ("I could use some farther income."), but that doesn't mean it's incorrect. Literal "further" may be more common in British English than in American English.

There is no value in trying to fight for the distinction, since it doesn't help us to make shades of meaning; the meaning is either literal or figurative based on the context, and this distinction can't be blurred or confused by which form of the word we choose.

Even relative prescriptivists such as Fowler (Fowler's Modern English Usage, 2e) don't advocate for maintaining the difference between the words, and the OED doesn't find much historical support for it.

The following points may be helpful for nonnative speakers:

  • There is a transitive verb "further," but no transitive verb "farther." There are related forms like "furthering" and "furtherance," but no such forms based on "farther."
  • We have "furthermore" but not "farthermore."
  • The usage that is most likely to sound wrong to 21st-century speakers is "farther" in the figurative sense.

For all of these reasons, nonnative speakers are safer saying "further" when in doubt. Substituting "further" for "farther" is never incorrect, and many native speakers use "further" exclusively. Fowler speculates that "further" is eventually going to displace "farther" completely.

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+1 for providing some decent info. (Though this is a 3+ year old thread, the old info that was in it could have misled some readers on this topic.) –  F.E. Feb 15 at 20:20
    
I would argue that since examples like “farther income” sound quite off to most speakers, it is incorrect. Farthermore, that there is no reason to fight for the conflation of the two words when they have clearly gone their separate ways to most native speakers and farther is so much more heavily restricted than further. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 15 at 22:23
    
@JanusBahsJacquet: I don't understand your second sentence. It seems to be missing a verb -- did you mean "there is" rather than "that there is?" Do you mean "fight against the conflation" rather than "fight for?" –  Ben Crowell Feb 15 at 23:16
    
The verb was ‘argue’ from the first sentence, elliptically repeated. Since you said there is no value in fighting for the distinction, I countered that since there is a distinction for most people, there is no value in fighting for the conflation, the opposite (even if the distinction is recent and secondary). And ‘farthermore’ was of course just to show that there are cases where ‘farther’ sounds more than just a little off, but is completely unusable to anyone born this side of 1600. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 15 at 23:18
    
I see. I'm not "fighting for the conflation," merely saying that it's not worth fighting against. –  Ben Crowell Feb 15 at 23:24
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