Learn this tip and you’ll go further. Or is it farther?

*Don’t forget about the ongoing contest for 10% off your next edit! Figure out how to parse the buffalo sentence from yesterday’s post and you could win!*

The other day I received this text from my husband: “I parked a little farther (further?) today.” I know this is a common usage question, so let’s dive into it.

I always do some research before writing up these tips, and this time I was surprised by what I found. I’ve always been taught that there was a clear distinction between these two words that follows a hard and fast rule. Apparently, not so! Many reputable sources say they’re often used interchangeably, especially in British English, and this is perfectly accepted.

But, especially in American English, some prescriptivism remains. If you’re writing in a more formal context, here’s the residual rule. Use farther when you’re talking about a physical distance (that’s my simple mnemonic) and further when it’s a matter of degree. For example,  the student farther down the table is further along on her test.

Further can also mean more (e.g., “call for further information”) or as a verb meaning to advance (e.g., “further the cause”). These meanings are not interchangeable with farther.

So, my poor husband needn’t have been intimidated by his texting word choice: either would have been acceptable. But if we’re being sticklers, he parked a farther distance away.

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