When to Use Further or Farther

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

'Further' and 'farther' are often thought to be interchangeable, but there are some significant differences, including when to use each one and how they are used as parts of speech.

Further and Farther

I ran ten miles this morning, but wanted to run farther. Or is it further? The distinction between these two words confuses English speakers, readers, and writers all the time, so let's sort out the differences between the two.

To some extent, 'further' and 'farther' are synonyms, or words that have the same meaning. Both words are typically used as adverbs (words that modify or describe verbs or adjectives) or adjectives (words that modify or describe nouns) to mean 'at, to, or by a great distance'. But they have slightly different usages, especially in the United States. 'Farther' is used to describe real physical distances, as in the running example we started with, while 'further' is used to describe distances that are more metaphorical, or not literal.

'Further' can also function as a verb, or action word, while 'farther' cannot.

Farther Along

The mountains are farther away than the waterfall.
Farther

Let's start with 'farther'; it's the easier one to understand. The most common usage for 'farther' is as an adverb, adjective, or phrase in a sentence. For example, let's look at the sentence we started with:

I ran ten miles this morning, but wanted to run farther.

'Farther' is modifying the verb 'run', describing how much I wanted to run. Let's take a look at some more examples of 'farther' as an adverb:

I swam farther down in the ocean than I had ever gone before.

John can run farther than Bob before he needs to stop for a break.

The farther away we are, the more I miss you.

'Farther' can also be used as an adjective to describe a noun:

There is supposed to be a gold mine on the farther side of that hill.

Notice that in all of these examples, 'farther' is used to describe real distances, such as how far someone can run or how deep in the ocean someone can swim. As we already discussed, 'farther' is used for real, literal distances.

Further Along

The stock market fell further today.
Stock Market

So if 'farther' describes real distances, what does 'further' describe? It's probably best to just look at some examples. In these, 'farther' is an adverb, doing the same job in the sentence as 'farther' was doing earlier, but now it is not describing literal distance:

After a bad day yesterday, the stock market fell even further today.

The professor's lecture went into further detail about the inner workings of frog DNA.

I only read 50 pages of the book but had hoped to get further.

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