What's the difference between "farther on", "ahead" and "farther ahead" in these examples related to physical locations? For example; does one of them denote a greater distance or a more literary/old-fashioned style than another? Doing some Google searches I learned that "ahead" is the most popular.

Tim was walking by the river when, 20 yards ahead/farther on/farther ahead, he saw a deer galloping past.

Ahead/Farther ahead/Farther on in the misty distance there gleamed a fire.

  • 1
    Though there might be a slight connotation of greater distance with farther on and farther ahead, for all practical purposes all three are used interchangeably. – DrMoishe Pippik Jul 30 '18 at 0:00
  • Furthermore, this Ngram might interest you. – J.R. Jul 30 '18 at 0:08
  • Yes, @J.R. "further ahead" can be added too in the list. Probably "further" is more common than "farther" in the Ngram because it is used for non-literal distances too. – Fra Jul 30 '18 at 8:51

further and farther are comparatives, and ahead and on are deictic.

If something is further or farther ahead|on, it is further|farther ahead of a specified reference point which is itself ahead of another reference point:

The bank is two blocks ahead. The library is several blocks further|farther ahead|on.

or it is farther|further ahead of a reference point which is ahead of where it itself used to be:

We have gone ten miles into the jungle. The dig site lies two miles further|farther ahead|on.

If you have not set out on your twelve-mile journey to the dig site yet but are just about to set out, you would not say:

The dig site lies further|farther ahead|on.

because the comparative would be in comparison to nothing, which doesn't fly.

But you could say:

The dig site lies ahead.

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