Sandy Mendenhall wrote in to ask about the proper use of farther and further: “What are the rules for further and farther? Everyone I ask doesn’t seem to have an answer.”
Apparently, the two words have been used interchangably by many writers since the Middle Ages. More recently, however, some people have tried to make a distinction between the two words.
The strictest rule would have writers use farther only for physical distance and further only for figurative, or metaphorical, distance.
- The oasis was much farther away than Sandy had realized.
- If you would like to discuss it further, you may come to my office.
- The further you get from your youth, the more you appreciate your parents.
A more “tolerant” rule allows for both farther and further to describe literal distance, but only further to describe figurative distance.
You can read more about the subtle distinctions between these two words in the following books, both of which are available online at bartleby.com: