Grammar…Why Did it Have to be Grammar — The Truth of Further vs Farther

So I spend quite a bit of time on Twitter, my blog, and NaNoWriMo forums.  I am always looking for ways to improve my craft and to offer my insight to others on how they can improve.

One conversation has come up recently that I commented on and was surprised what I saw in this discussion.  Further vs Farther.  Which do you use?  Now, I am guilty that often times I use further when I mean farther because to me it sounds better.  To say farther, I have to move my jaw a bit but for further, I only move my tongue.

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The discussion on NaNoWriMo, some people understand the difference between the two, some simply don’t know, and a few choose to have their own definition.  Luckily this issue is not one that will make or break a writer, but I do believe in excelling in all aspects of writing, as much as humanly possible.

My wisdom on this issue starts with the 2000 film, “Finding Forrester” where Jamal cites the difference:

“Farther” relates to distance, “further” is a definition of degree.

But rather than tell you this to be true, I wanted to understand this a bit more.  According to Merriam Webster, the history of the two words have been used interchangeably, and only recently have they begun to diverge.  The definitions that M-W gives:

Farther
1
:  at or to a greater distance or more advanced point <got no farther than the first page> <nothing could be farther from the truth>
2
:  to a greater degree or extent <see to it that I do not have to act any farther in the matter — Bernard DeVoto>

Further
1
:  farther 1 are tired, and I have further to go — Thomas Hardy>
2
:  in addition :  moreover
3
:  to a greater degree or extent <further annoyed by a second intrusion>

So, that only seems to complicate matters.  Essentially saying they are interchangeable if you read it a certain way.  Thanks M-W for not helping at all.

For the most part, my research into grammar books, Grammar Girl, and a variety of other resources suggest that Further and Farther can be used interchangeably to indicate literal distance, whereas only Further can be used to relate to figurative (metaphorical, degree of) distance.  However, many agree that the two should be separated, Farther is literal distance whereas Further is figurative distance.

TL;DR

Farther relates to distance (literal distance)
Further is a definition of degree (figurative distance)

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