Word Choice: Farther vs. Further
  • 2-minute read
  • 8th September 2015

Word Choice: Farther vs. Further

“Farther” and “further” mean the same thing, right? Well, in American English we distinguish between these terms in some contexts, including in academic and other formal writing, where precision is vital. To find out how these terms should be used, learn the traditional distinction below.

Farther (Physical Distance)

Although these terms are increasingly used interchangeably, technically, “farther” is reserved for discussing physical distances. As such, we might say:

The library is farther down the road from here than the post office.

Here, “farther” is the comparative form of “far,” which  simply means “at a greater distance.” The superlative, meanwhile, is “farthest,” which means “at the greatest physical distance.” Both contain the word “far.”

It might be worth distinguishing between "farther" and "a father," while we're at it.
It might be worth distinguishing between “farther” and “a father,” while we’re at it.

Further (Physical or Metaphorical Distance)

So, how does “further” differ? When referring to physical distance, not at all. As such, it would be correct to say:

The library is further down the road from here than the post office.

However, “further” is also used for figurative or non-physical distances. For instance, if we were referring to something that happens at a later point in time, we’d want to use “further”:

Proofreading happens further along in the publication process than editing.

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Likewise, “further” is used when referring to things such as how far prices rise and fall or the point we’ve reached in a book:

Before you read any further, stop and reflect on the themes in this chapter.

To refer to the greatest figurative distance, moreover, we’d say “furthest.” This “metaphorical” sense of “further” is also reflected in its use to mean “additional,” such as when we say that something requires “further study.”

Farther or Further?

The good news is that “further” is correct regardless of context. Throw in the fact that “farther” is much less common these days, as shown in this n-gram chart, and you might be safer using “further” for all senses of the word.

Farther or further?
Farther or further?

However, if you want to ensure complete clarity in your work, you can maintain the traditional distinction:

Farther = At a greater physical distance

Further = At a greater figurative or non-physical distance

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