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The OALD, for the meaning of further says:

(comparative of far) (especially BrE) at or to a greater distance SYN farther

Is further really used as synonym of farther?
As far as I recall, there is a slightly different meaning between those words. I don't recall that exactly, but I think I was taught that further is used figuratively, such as in "I cannot go any further into this discussion."

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  • That's the distinction I draw in my own use; but I don't think the distinction is observed widely enough to say it's the distinction. Apr 17 '13 at 14:10
  • 3
    That is what I was taught as well. "Farther" should always be used for literal distance, while "further" is used for everything else. English being what it is, the line is blurred. Apr 17 '13 at 15:52
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Here are a few relevant pronouncements culled from dailywritingtips.com...

The OED says
In standard English the form farther is usually preferred where the word is intended to be the comparative of far, while further is used where the notion of far is altogether absent.
It concedes, however, that “there is a large intermediate class of instances in which the choice between the two forms is arbitrary.”

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary
There is no historical basis for the notion that farther is of physical distance and further of degree or quality.

In 1926 H.W. Fowler wrote in A Dictionary of Modern English Usage
The fact is surely that hardly anyone uses the two words for different occasions; most people prefer one or the other for all purposes, and the preference of the majority is for further.


As these NGrams for advanced further/farther and further/farther advanced show, there's no significant preference based on word position, or UK/US usage. What stands out is further is always more common.

Thus, even if some people (i.e. Grammar Girl) do distinguish either the precise meanings, or the contexts in which they use each form, this is effectively irrelevant, since most of us don't. It's just pedantry.


But there are contexts where farther is never used. In "fixed expressions" such as further education (BrE for AmE continuing education), and as the verb to further (to develop or make progress in something).

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  • most people prefer one or the other for all purposes I find this true, at least for myself. I had read some prescriptive opinion that farther should be used for physical distance, but I think I find myself using further almost, if not entirely, exclusively.
    – TecBrat
    Jan 16 '17 at 18:59
  • @TecBrat: Furthermore, I should point out that although farthermost does actually occur, the corresponding farthermore is virtually unknown. Jan 16 '17 at 19:13
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Pam Peters, who is often criticized by EL&U community, says that "The idea that farther and further work in different realms is not sustainable. [...] both forms are now freely applied to 'spatial, temporal or metaphorical distance'."

Pam Peters derive her conclusions from British National Corpus and American English from the Cambridge International Corpus.

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    +1 It makes a change to see a context where I can wholeheartedly agree with Ms Peters! Actually, my only problem with her pronouncements is that sometimes they're a bit too "prescriptive" for my taste, but obviously that doesn't apply here! Apr 19 '13 at 22:54
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"Farther" seems to be one of the many differences of American English. It's not really used in England and the rest of the UK. I have only heard it used by Americans, on television programmes. It is explained further in these links http://english-usage-mcallister.blogspot.co.uk/2006/06/farther-or-further.html and http://random-idea-english.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/q-further-or-farther-british.html

It sounds weird from an English perspective.

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  • I don't agree with this at all. My own answer includes links to NGrams which show no significant difference between US/UK preferences. All I see is that further has always been the dominant form, and that preference has probably increased slightly over the past century. Apr 19 '13 at 20:29
  • FF, I have only heard "farther" used by Americans. Not even once have I heard it used by British people.
    – Tristan
    Apr 20 '13 at 12:28
  • Great Expectations, Volume 1, Chapter 3: "I wonder you shouldn't have been sure of that," I returned, "for we heard it up at home, and that's farther away, and we were shut in besides." I know that's only one example - but like I said before, NGrams give the big picture more reliably. Apr 20 '13 at 17:02
  • Yes, it's only one and from how long ago? It's not in general use in the current era.
    – Tristan
    Apr 20 '13 at 18:32
  • Okay, well, I'll grant that Americans favour farther away over further away by about 3:2, whereas for Brits it's more like 1:3 in the opposite direction, so I'll cancel that downvote. But note from that second link that before the 1960s (i.e. - back when I learnt English! :) even Brits favoured farther for that one. Apr 20 '13 at 19:37

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