Each week, we take a look at a common confusions and ambiguities in the English language (that gives us about a century’s worth of material!) – making things easier through the power of friendly conversation. This week, we go further than ever before…or, wait, is it…
Q: Hello Australian Writers’ Centre, have you seen the new Star Wars trailer? OMG OMG OMG ZOMG!
A: Nope, we’ve been a bit busy with writing centre-y stuff this week. It’s good then?
Q: Well, there are only about three scenes in it and it’s more of a teaser than a trailer. And the evil dude would totally slice himself with those sideways bits of the new lightsaber. But yep.
A: Well, that’s great. Um, we’re a little busy righ—
Q: No wait, I do have a grammar question!
A: We thought you’d never ask.
Q: It actually came about after watching that Star Wars thing and I was recalling the most famous line from the original films. Do you know what that was?
A: “May the merchandising be with you?”
Q: Ha ha. No, “Luke, I am your father”… And THAT got me thinking about the difference between the words “farther” and “further”.
A: Wow, back up everyone, person drawing a very long bow coming through.
Q: Okay, fair call. But seriously, what’s the best way to figure out which to use?
A: “Further” and “farther” are pretty close. But there’s certainly daylight between them. It’s actually a little bit like the “less vs fewer” chat we had a while back – where one is a quantifiable, measurable concept and the other is more fluffy bunnies and marshmallows…abstract stuff.
Q: So which is which?
A: “Farther” is the one that relates to any actual distance you can measure, and it’s pretty easy to remember – how “FAR” is it from A to B etc. Conversely, “further” is more concerned with the concept of distance.
Q: Because cats have “FUR”, right?
A: Um. No, that doesn’t really work. But if you want to imagine an abstract painting of a cat, that might. So someone “couldn’t be further from the truth” despite being “farther from home than ever before”. See the difference?
Q: I see. Or Darth Vader being Luke’s father helps to further the plot. And it’s in a galaxy far, far, much farther away.
A: Yes that. And if you’re on a car journey, the question should really be “is it much farther?” and not the more common, “is it much further?”… unless you’re travelling in a metaphor-shaped car with a painting of a cat…
Q: It’s the only way to travel! Okay, now before we take this chat any further– Oh, hang on or is it “farther”?
A: Ah. Yes, sometimes it’s tricky to decide if the “distance” we’re measuring is figurative or actual. In that case, the world (especially UK/Australian English) tends to go easy on you (there are bigger grammar battles to fight) although it does sound better with “further” in those cases.
Q: Strong at grammar, you are.
A: Don’t even get us started on Yoda’s sentence structure…