As defined in standard dictionaries, ‘further’ and ‘farther’ can be treated more or less like synonyms in many contexts. Both ‘further’ and ‘farther’ can be used in adjective as well as adverb form. Both are listed in the Oxford dictionary as the comparative form of the adjective-cum-adverb ‘far’. What then is the difference between ‘further’ and ‘farther’?
‘Far’ means ‘distant, remote, or spaced out’. So, the adjective ‘farther’ simply means ‘more away, more distant’ – from a point of reference, whether in space or in time, or even on an abstract level. In simple terms, ‘farther’ is the opposite of ‘nearer’.
- Pluto is farther from the Sun than Mars.
- The farther one delves into the mysteries of the Universe, the more incomprehensible it appears.
- My new school is farther from where I live than my previous school.
- Nothing could be farther from truth than your concocted story.
- The castle is clearly visible from the farther end of the beach.
In all these examples, ‘farther’ is the preferred word. The adjective ‘further’ is used more when the notion of distance is not so explicit, more often in the sense of ‘more or additional’. For example:
- Further down the road is my school.
- We need to have further discussions before we can finalize the deal.
- Further research is required to establish unequivocally the validity of this theory.
- Cook the pasta for a further 5 minutes.
As an adverb, ‘farther’ implies ‘at/to a greater distance, away to a greater degree or extent’ and ‘further’ implies ‘beyond, more, moreover, in addition’. Although as adverbs ‘further’ and ‘farther’ can often be used interchangeably in many instances, there is a subtle difference between the two that forbids the use of one for the other in some contexts. Once again, the difference stems from the element of generality and abstractness in the adverb ‘further’, whereas the adverb ‘farther’ is more restricted to the notion of ‘distance’, especially spatial. So, adverb usage of ‘further’ is far more widespread than adverb usage of ‘farther’. Here are some examples to illustrate this:
- I cannot take this nonsense any further.
- I refuse to take you any farther in my car.
- The government’s new bill is surely a step further in fighting corruption.
- I am too tired to go any further (or farther).
- I wouldn’t like to delve further into his past.
- Let us take our discussion further.
One clear-cut difference between ‘further’ and ‘farther’ is that ‘further’ can be used as a verb too, whereas ‘farther’ cannot be. As a verb, ‘further’ means ‘to advance, to take further or forward, or to enhance’. For example:
She would go to any extent to further her career.
- To further the cause we are fighting for, we need huge donations.
Hope these definitions of ‘further’ and ‘farther’ make clear the difference between the confusing words ‘further’ and ‘farther’.