Further vs. Farther: How to Tell the Difference

Commonly Confused Words

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You’re navigating to a new coffee shop—but is it one mile further or farther down the road? With a difference of only one letter, it can be hard to remember when to use "further" vs. "farther," especially because both words generally mean “more distant.” For a time, speakers and writers did not differentiate between the two terms. However, a recent rule has established a clear separation between them. "Farther” refers to physical distance, while “further” refers to metaphorical distance, extension of time, or degree. "Further" can also mean "in addition to."

How to Use Farther

The adverb “farther” is used to discuss physical distance. It usually describes the space between destinations or the distance traveled. It can also apply to a “more advanced point” or a “greater extent.” For example, if we are stretching our arms toward something, we might stretch them “farther” towards an object. 

How to Use Further

“Further” refers to a figurative distance. For instance, if someone is telling a story and you stop them, you are pausing them before they get “further” along. It can also mean “in addition to” or “additionally,” allowing it to encompass a broader range of uses than “farther.” 

Unlike “farther,” “further” can also function as an adjective or verb. In its adjective form, it also translates to “more” or “additional,” such as someone having “further” questions after listening to a presentation. As a verb, it refers to aiding in progress, helping advance something, or moving something forward. For example, someone might “further” their political ambitions by running for a state senate position. 

Examples 

  • During the long road trip, the children kept asking how much farther they had to drive to reach the restaurant: In this sentence, “farther” is used because it relates to the physical distance they have to travel before they arrive at their destination. 
  • When the Titanic sank, the rescue boats bobbed farther and farther away from the ship: In this sentence, “farther” is used to show that the rescue boats put a physical distance in between them and the sinking vessel in order to keep their occupants safe. 
  • In order to ensure a good grade on the paper, he asked for further books he could reference, even though it meant driving to a library farther away to pick them up: In this sentence, “further” is an adjective that shows the student wants to study additional texts, while “farther” indicates the physical distance he has to drive in order to retrieve them. 
  • They traveled farther west to the Washington Coast, but even on vacation, their father couldn’t relax as he watched stock prices fall further: In this sentence, “farther” notes the family’s physical travel to their vacation spot, while “further” references that while stock prices fall, they are only plunging a metaphorical distance, rather than a physical one. 
  • “There is nothing further from the truth,” Ellen said, after John declared that Elf was not a good Christmas movie: In this sentence, which uses “further” in a common phrase, the word is used because there is no mention of spatial distance. However, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, “farther” could also be used in this situation—in many cases, such as this, the distinction is not all that easy to draw. 

How to Remember the Difference 

A good way to remember the difference is to think of “far” in “farther” involving physical distance. Sounds easy, but what if it’s unclear if you’re actually talking about physical distance? For instance, when writing an essay, are you “farther” or “further” along on it than someone who has written less than you? You could also try substituting the word for “furthermore”—if that replacement doesn’t make sense, you should most likely use “farther.” 

If you can’t remember the difference or you’re having trouble making the distinction, you’re better off using “further,” since there are more rules attached to the use of “farther.” 

However, in the UK, don’t be surprised if people don’t follow this rule: there, “further” can also apply to physical distance—and the same might be the case in the States, as well. While in most cases of homophones or near-homophones, the words cannot be used interchangeably, that is not the case for “further” and “farther.” In fact, even grammar experts switch between the two.