Which Word Wednesday: Farther vs. Further

By September 12, 2012 language 7 Comments

The submissions are rolling in these days! This week’s Which Word Wednesday considers the use of farther and further. Thanks to Aunt Barb for suggesting this one, which is actually one of my favorites! I thought I had already covered it, but after a search of The Patch, I discovered that I had only talked about the quandary in a 2009 post—before WWW was even launched.

I’m so glad Aunt Barb is on top of it! We would have missed out on this little gem. Let’s go to the definitions in The Oxford American Dictionary:

farther :: adverb
at, to, or by a greater distance (used to indicate the extent to which one thing or person is or becomes distant from another)

further :: adverb
at, to, or by a greater distance (used to indicate the extent to which one thing or person is or becomes distant from another); over a greater expanse of space or time; beyond or in addition to what has already been done

Traditionally, farther and farthest were used in referring to physical distance. . . . Further and furthest were restricted to figurative or abstract senses. . . . Although farther and farthest are still restricted to measurable distances, further and furthest are now common in both senses. . . .

This is a tight race, folks! Both are adverbs describing comparative distances. The OAD closing note grants some insight in that traditionally farther was used for literal distance and further was used for figurative distance. Today’s common usage reserves farther for literal use but allows further to be used for figurative and literal.

I checked my sources: Rod Evans, The Artful Nuance, supports interchangeable use for farther/further. (no!!!) Dave Dowling, The Wrong Word Dictionary, reserves farther for distance (how far?) and further for degree or extent (how much?). (hooray!!!)

As mentioned in my 2009 post, a favorite song of mine by Bebo Norman uses the word farther in a playful way. He wrote, “But I am alive / Standing strong / No farther forward / But farther along.” I always wanted it to be, “No farther forward” (distance) “But further along” (extent). But that’s because I’m a word nerd. I have to rewrite creative song lyrics or else I’ll be bugged. (oh.my.)

What’s my WWW verdict? If you didn’t catch my boos and cheers, my verdict is a surprise: I’m sticking with tradition, using farther for distance and further for degree.

What’s your verdict? Do you use farther and further interchangeably? Do you remember that Bebo song? Do share in the comments.

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Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

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