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Difference Between: Further vs. Farther

Further (fɜːʳðəʳ) and Farther (fɑːðəʳ) are both adverbs (words that describe actions) and adjectives (words that describe things). They are also the comparative form of far, which means ‘to be at a distance’. As a result, further and farther mean: ‘to a greater distance or degree’ – e.g. The hikers were so tired, they couldn’t walk any farther or James decided that if he had further problems with the car, he would sell it.

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Further or Farther?

Most of the time, in British English, when using farther and further as adjectives and adverbs, there is no difference between these words. We can say:

  • The route was 5 miles farther than the map suggested (correct).
  • The route was 5 miles further than the map suggested (correct).

However, in American English, there is a difference in this type of sentence. In American English, they only use farther to describe physical distances.

  • The route was 5 miles farther than the map suggested (correct).
  • The route was 5 miles further than the map suggested (incorrect).

The first sentence is correct because 5 miles is a physical distance that we can measure.

In American English, they use further to talk about figurative and symbolic distances:

  • The teacher told Harry he would progress further in his studies (correct).
  • The teacher told Harry he would progress farther in his studies (incorrect).

The first example is correct because we cannot measure the distance the teacher describes – the progress of his studies is not a physical distance but a metaphorical one.

The key to remembering the American English rule is to ask yourself: is this a physical distance that we can measure? If it is, use farther. If it is not, use further.

There is also a difference in how we pronounce further and farther in British and American English. In British English, the /ur/ part in further rhymes with the /ir/ in bird, whereas the /ar/ part in farther rhymes with the /ar/ in car. The /er/ part at the end of both words is like the /a/ in about. American English speakers stress the /r/ in the /ur/, /ar/ and /er/ parts harder than the British do.

Thinking about physical distances and metaphorical differences can be complicated. Sometimes the unit of measurement (such as 5 miles) is not present in the sentence:

  • It’s farther to Japan from London than it is from Japan to China (correct).
  • It’s further to Japan from London than it is from Japan to China (incorrect).

Farther is still correct because we can imagine that the distance is in kilometres or miles.

Alternatively, we might be talking about something that measures time and not distance.

But what if you are writing a report? Do you think of it in terms of time or distance? For example:

  • Terry is further along with the report than he was yesterday.

Here, further could relate to the time it takes to write the report – it is not a physical distance but a measurement of time, so we need further. But could we also think of the report in terms of the words written, pages, printed copies? Are these not physical distances? The short answer is no. The distance must be a number, such as metres, centimetres, kilometres, yards or miles. So, only further is correct in this instance in American English.

In British English, you don’t have to worry about the above questions – farther or further are correct in all sentences. That being said, we do use further much more in British English than farther.

Only further

In British English and American English, the adjectives and adverbs further and farther also mean: ‘additional, extra or more’. However, in British English, we only use further as an adjective when it comes before a noun:

  • My assistant will send you further details next week (correct).
  • My assistant will send you farther details next week (incorrect).
  • For further information, please call this number…(correct).
  • For farther information, please call this number…(incorrect).

Both details and information are nouns (things), so we must use further as an adjective to describe them. Farther is not possible here.

The best way to never make a mistake with further and farther in British English is to always use further. If in doubt, always use further!

Verb further

The above tip is also true if we think about further as a verb, which means ‘to make progress with something or to build on something’:

  • The professor told Sandra to further her studies by taking extra classes (correct).
  • The professor told Sandra to farther her studies by taking extra classes. (incorrect).

 This rule also applies to American English. If further is a verb, and you can replace it with phrases such as ‘make progress with…’ or ‘build on…’, then always use further.

The fact further is a verb also means that it can appear in different forms – e.g. Helen furthers her education by attending night classes or Watching YouTube videos is furthering Sandy’s guitar playing.

If we change the word in any way, we can only use further:

  • Steve furthered his employment prospects by doing an internship (correct).
  • Steve farthered his employment prospects by doing an internship (incorrect).

The bottom line, in British English, is that if you use further, you will always be correct!

What does further mean?

Comparative adverb or adjective: ‘to a greater distance or degree’.

Synonyms: more distant, to a greater degree, to a greater extent.

Set expression: Further afield, further down the road, cannot be further from the truth, take something further, go further, on further inspection.

Additional meanings:

  1. Adjective/adverb that means ‘additional, more, extra’ – e.g. Medical experts need to carry out further trials before they approve the drug. or The postal worker needs to walk 10 miles further than he used to.
  2. Adjective/adverb that describes a point at a greater distance – e.g. The mountains were further away than the hikers expected.
  3. Verb that means ‘to make progress or to build on’ – e.g. To further your vocabulary, read more books.

Examples with further in a sentence:

  • Does anyone have any questions before I go any further with the presentation?
  • On further inspection, the mechanic found issues with the car’s brakes.
  • How much further is Newcastle from London than Leeds?
  • I’m not sure how much further I can progress in my career with this company.
  • Are you looking for a flat in London itself or a bit further afield?

What does farther mean?

Comparative adverb or adjective: ‘to a greater distance or degree’.

Synonyms: more distant, to a greater degree, to a greater extent.

Set expressions: In British English, we advise you to avoid using the set expressions in further with farther, even if they are technically correct. This is because you will find some expressions that only sound right with further.

Additional meanings:

  1. Adverb that means ‘additional, more, extra’ – e.g. The postal worker needs to walk 10 miles farther than he used to. 
  2. Adjective/adverb that describes a point at a great distance – e.g. The mountains were farther than the hikers expected.

Examples with farther in a sentence:

  • The cottage was farther from the train station than we had thought.
  • I used to walk farther to work than I do now.
  • Jane threw her ball farther than James.
  • In the countryside, the houses are often farther apart.
  • The islands farther south have more wild birds.

Quiz: Further or Farther?

You need not look any further for a chance to further your knowledge of further and farther. Try the exercises below! The questions concern British English only (unless otherwise stated).

  1. In American English, you say: How many miles _______ is London to New York than London to Edinburgh?
    a. further
    b. farther
    c. both further and farther
  2. In American English, you say: It’s important to start planning your retirement as you get _______ on in life.
    a. further
    b. farther
    c. both further and farther
  3. Tara couldn’t run any ________ – she was completely exhausted.
    a. further
    b. farther
    c. both further and farther
  4. In British English, it’s best to use _________ if you’re not sure whether you need to use further or farther.
    a. further
    b. farther
  5. “Any _________ questions?” asked the manager.
    a. further
    b. farther
    c. both further and farther
  6. The lighthouse seemed even _________ away when the tourists reached the viewpoint.
    a. further
    b. farther
    c. both further and farther
  7. _______ his career had never been one of Paul’s main concerns.
    a. furthering
    b. farthering
    c. both furthering and farthering
  8. The sign offered employees the opportunity to ________ their skills with a weekly workshop.
    a. further
    b. farther
    c. bother further and farther
  9. The letter Dennis received said that the council would take ________ action if he didn’t pay up by Friday.
    a. further
    b. farther
    c. both further and farther
  10. John wished Debbie wasn’t moving any_________ afield – they already hardly ever saw each other as it was.
    a. further
    b. farther
    c. bother further and farther

Answers: 

  1. b)
  2. a)
  3. c)
  4. a)
  5. a)
  6. c)
  7. a)
  8. a)
  9. a)
  10. a)
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Sam S.
— ESL Tutor.
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