Q: I was taught that “farther” refers to a greater distance and “further” to a greater degree, but I see the two words used interchangeably all the time. Has the distinction been lost?
A: Although “farther” and “further” have been used interchangeably for much of their history, they’ve taken on distinct meanings in modern English. “Farther” is used for actual physical distance and “further” for abstract distance or to indicate a greater extent.
Here’s an example from my grammar book Woe Is I: Lumpy insisted that he could walk no farther, and he refused to discuss it any further.
Garner’s Modern American Usage and the Usage Panel of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language both support making this distinction.
I do too, but the choice can be difficult when a term indicating distance is used figuratively, as in this sentence: “He took the argument one step [farther or further].” Personally, I’d prefer “further,” but many writers, including my husband, would use “farther.”
I hope I haven’t muddied the issue further.
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