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Which sentence is correct?

The quarterback threw the ball farthest than anyone else on the team.

The quarterback threw the ball farther than anyone else on the team.

The quarterback threw the ball further than anyone else on the team.

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    The first option is certainly incorrect. I believe in "correct" usage, "farther" refers to physical distance, "further" is used for metaphorical distance though I would argue the "further" has much more widespread use. – James Webster Dec 13 '13 at 16:11
  • i.e. I threw the ball farther to further my skills. – James Webster Dec 13 '13 at 16:12
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    ‘The idea that “farther” and “further” work in different realms is not sustainable. The Oxford Dictionary (1989) comments that C19 usage on this point was often arbitrary; and Webster’s English Usage (1989) notes that both forms are now freely applied to “spatial, temporal or metaphorical distance.”. ('The Cambridge Guide to English Usage') – Barrie England Dec 13 '13 at 16:47
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How many quarterbacks are there? If there is one quarterback, he can throw far.

If there are two quarterbacks, one can throw farther than the other.

You need a comparison between three of a thing to use farthest (or biggest, tallest, smartest, etc.)

If everybody on the team is throwing the ball, then you'd be technically correct to say he threw the farthest (if he did).

The difference between farther and further is another matter.

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As JamesWebster points out, the use of further instead of farther is widespread, which is OK, I guess.

The old rule about farther being a literal distance, whether a hundred feet or a million miles, and further being a figurative distance, as in "the furthest thing from my mind," allows for a more accurate expression. However, people generally know intuitively when you say "furthest thing from my mind" you are not talking about a literal distance. Moreover, "a little further down the road" is clearly a literal expression (in most instances), and people generally will not be surprised if you attach a literal distance to the expression, as in "oh, about a mile-and-a-half down the road."

It's dealer's choice as to how you roll in the farther/further locution. In formal writing, I think you are better off observing the difference between the literal and the figurative. I have a feeling, moreover, people might look askance if you say, "That's the farthest thing from my mind," though I could be wrong.

  • Who came up with this farther/further distinction? And when? The 1892 Webster's International Dictionary doesn't seem to make it. – Peter Shor Dec 13 '13 at 17:43
  • @PeterShor: Yeah, you're probably right. Personally, I'm comfortable with a distinction between the two terms, but I wouldn't correct someone who uses the terms interchangeably (or uses just one term all the time). "Poe-tah-toe, poe-tay- toe; toe-mah-toe, toe-may-toe! Let's call the whole thing off" (the Gershwin brothers). – rhetorician Dec 13 '13 at 17:51
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    Googling old grammar books, it looks like this distinction was made in the mid-19th Century; the motivation seems to be that farther is the comparative of far, and further is the comparative of fore/forth. Indeed, further is etymologically the comparative of fore/forth, and it displaced farrer as the comaprative of far some time during Middle English. But I'm not convinced there was any distinction between the two before the grammarians introduced one. – Peter Shor Dec 13 '13 at 17:58
  • @PeterShor: Thanks for the etymological insights! Don – rhetorician Dec 13 '13 at 18:02

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