Grammar check: further or farther – do you get it right?

I recently hesitated when I wrote the phrase “look no further,” referring to a search for Thanksgiving recipes. Was that correct? I thought back to the old rule reminding me that farther meant physical distance and further, well it’s different, but I couldn’t remember exactly why.

Jump to Grammarly, which explains it in detail, yet I’m still a little confused. Here is what seems clear to me about further and farther:

Farther connotes distance, but it can also refer to a more advanced point.

Both further and farther are adverbs, but further can also be a verb, as in, “She furthered her career” as well as an adjective, such as, “pursuing further information.” Still okay, but now things get murky:

Grammarly poses the question, “How do the definitions of farther and further overlap? Can you use further or farther away in the same way?” The answer:

“Some usage guides disagree, but both terms have been used interchangeably to describe physical distance.”

The following examples of confused me even more:

“The further from one another, the nearer one can be.”—August Strindberg, The Road to Damascus

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now . . . Come further up, come further in!” —C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle

I felt a little better after I read further (haha, get it?).

The Chicago Manual of Style defers to Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary, which says:

“Farther and further have been used more or less interchangeably throughout most of their history, but currently they are showing signs of diverging. As adverbs they continue to be used interchangeably whenever spatial, temporal, or metaphorical distance is involved. But where there is no notion of distance, further is used.”

Their final tip is to remember that only further means moreover.

I’m probably going to do what I usually do when I’m unsure of correct usage, which is to rewrite the sentence so I don’t have to deal with it!

Do you have the further/farther rule down? What’s your secret?

By the way, when I ran the Spelling & Grammar check on this post, Microsoft Word gave me a 90%. That’s one of their new, annoying features.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Jackson Browne songs, Farther On.

Thanks for visiting—come back soon!

36 thoughts on “Grammar check: further or farther – do you get it right?

  1. The Chicago Manual of Style’s explanation is what I’ve experienced. Personally, I grew up with people saying “farther” for distance and “further” for metaphorical distance or an unknown distance down the road. So that’s the way that seems most natural to me.

  2. To simplify: I remember that “FARther” refers to distance. Then “the other one” (further) denotes a more advanced point. If you explain more than that to students, their heads begin to spin. Interesting you mention that one source uses the two words interchangeably. I guess language continues to be in flux.
    Thanks for the grammar lesson, Barbara. 😀

  3. I can NEVER remember grammar lessons so I pretend that words are fluid and I take poetic license and use what ‘sounds’ right to me 😂. But, sometimes when I am utterly unsure I do a little research. 😉

  4. I agree with you, Barbara. I know that you can easily come across some examples that use further and farther differently from what we think is right, but that might just be because they didn’t get a good editor. Also, CMS frequently says some things are acceptable simply because they have given up trying to stop people from misusing them. (That’s just my humble opinion – not based on anything I know for sure – but I do see that often. They knuckle under because so many people continue to ignore correct grammar.) FARther for things that involve distance. FURther – think “furthermore.” Thanks for this post. Well done.

    1. I like to follow the rules, but in the end, you can’t be too judgmental, especially if the point is made effectively, bad grammar or not. I think you may be right about CMS deeming some things acceptable because of widespread misuse. I don’t worry about it too much, except I was an English major in college and I don’t want that to be thrown back at me – haha! Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

  5. I am bad with further/farther. I am also bad with fewer/less. I want to write clearly using them, but I also know that re-writing a sentence works well too. Or asking my husband, he understands their nuances.

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