Understanding the difference between “farther” and “further” can show you really know your grammar chops.
Both words refer to distance. However, one means more about how far the nearest coffee shop is from here, while the other means more about, say, what your girlfriend means when she says she needs some space.
How it works
“Farther” refers to physical, measurable distance.
Dad, how much farther until we get to the beach?
Birmingham is about an hour farther from here than Memphis.
To get to Kelly’s house, we should have gone one block farther.
In each of these sentences, there is a literal, objective distance involved. To check, take each idea and ask, “How much farther?” If the answer to that question is a distance you could measure in feet, yards, miles, etc., “farther” is most likely correct.
“Further” refers to metaphorical, less-tangible distance.
Many people think New Orleans is a dangerous city, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Kevin, it wouldn’t be wise to press your luck any further.
The magazine has been discontinued until further notice.
In these cases, if we ask, “How much farther?” there is no amount of distance that could answer that question. The idea of distance is metaphorical and unmeasurable, so “further” is the correct word.
One more thing: “Further,” and “furthermore,” can also be used as adverbs to mean “in addition,” or “moreover.”
Sometimes the line between physical and metaphorical get a little blurry. For instance:
Jolene is farther ahead on her journey to the top of the mountain than I am.
“Farther,” makes sense, since a physical distance is at play here. The speaker, the “I,” is at one point on the mountain, while Jolene is some distance ahead.
Jolene is further ahead on her journey to the top of the mountain than I am.
“Further” makes sense, too, since Jolene’s progress on the journey can also be understood as non-physical.
Here’s another example.
Kevin is much farther along than Nancy in the novel we’re reading for our book club.
“Farther” makes sense, because you could measure how far ahead Kevin is in page numbers. This is a material, concrete distance.
Kevin is much further along than Nancy in the novel we’re reading for our book club.
“Further” makes sense because the Kevin’s progression through the story is not a physical distance.
When in doubt, use “further.”
Throughout history, the two have been virtually interchangeable. In the U.K., “farther” is hardly ever used at all.
Here are a few practice sentences to solidify your understanding of further and farther
Tony let go of his balloon, and we watched it drift (farther, further) and (farther, further) up until it was out of sight.
If she had fleshed out her idea (farther, further), she would have received perfect marks on her essay.
Montana is (farther, further) north than Nevada.
To protect himself from (farther, further) damage, the boxer made sure to keep his hands up for the remainder of the match.
Earth is the third-(farthest, furthest) planet from the sun.
James concluded his speech by asking if there were any (farther, further) questions.
Without (farther, further) ado, let me introduce the contestants on tonight’s game show.
When Melissa bought her new BMW sports car, she parked it (farther, further) away from the store than she usually does.
By studying Shakespeare’s plays, Jon (farthered, furthered) his understanding of the English language.
You’d have to go (farther, further) back in the library’s archives to find the newspaper article you’re looking for.
Answers: 1. farther, farther, 2. further, 3. farther, 4. further, 5. farthest, 6. further, 7. further, 8. farther, 9. furthered (“farthered” isn’t even a word), 10. further.