Further vs. Farther: Distance Matters

Posted on April 3, 2015. Filed under: English, grammar | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |



Time for some more word games in my ongoing campaign to straighten up the English language as spoken in front of me…   I mean, “…as spoken in America.”

English can be confusing — even to native speakers — what with all the words that are spelled or pronounced the same, even though they have different meanings.  As we grow, our impressionable minds absorb all that verbal ambiguity, thusly setting the stage for poor scores on all those spelling tests in high school English…   and, sadly, I’m afraid, for poor word usage in collegiate and professional endeavors…   most notably, that ubiquitous field of journalism.

My current pet peeve is hearing the word “further” used in television programs and commercial advertising in place of the word “farther” when farther is the correct term.

Your words for the day:

  • far, farther, farthest = we are talking relative distances, folks.  These three are ADVERBS
  • further = to advance an argument or hypothesis.  It is a VERB.
  • LIARS = Learned Individual(s) Ascribing Refinement to Self

How FAR did Johnny go?  Johnny went FARTHER than either Seth or Beth.  That means that Johnny went the FARTHEST of the three.

In a comparative sense, FAR is a three-dimensional word.

Further, on the other hand, is one-dimensional — it has no other degree of consideration.  There is not fur, further, or furthest…   because further is NOT an adverb!  It is a VERB.  It is a statement that an argument is being extended or advanced.  Furthermore simply means “I have more to say in support of my argument/hypothesis.”

Their phonetic similarity and abstract relationships to distance causes many users to substitute further for farther.  Even dictionary “experts” have been beguiled into giving it legitimacy as an alternate to the comparative and superlative extensions of “far,” quite possibly due to post-adolescent trauma acquired by the forced attendance in high school English classes.  Or, maybe they have just graduated to the LIARS club, an exalted social station that grants unquestioned respect from the unwashed masses (yeah, that be us, the general public) for their learned pronouncements.

This mixed usage no doubt comes about by the abstract relationship they share:  both words take “something” and carry it to another point.  In the case of farther, you are taking a physical object and moving it to another geographical location.  If you are expanding on an argument or concept, you mentally move it along a path of logic to further its implications or meaning.

If these words were truly interchangeable, we should frequently hear such as “I need to farther this concept…” and, “farthermore, we must evaluate the effects of these events.”

  • If you have a compendium of concepts in your hand (before the digital age, we just called those books) that you carried from your car to the class room, that is how far you took it.  To present your report, you took the book farther up to the podium.  Once there, you opened the book and began presenting your view on the meanings of a particular concept or argument.  Your intent was to expand on the written argument and further its reach to include the general public

When a speaker or writer uses further to mean farther, he/she (or she/he) is simply furthering the public’s linguistic ignorance, taking us just a little farther from the concept of clear communication.


Dedicated to the Ford Motor Company for their ad exhorting the public to “go further in a Ford” and to their competitor (RAM?) who correctly* exhorts their customers to go farther.



*According to Dean — that be me.

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