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Furthest or Farthest: Understanding Differences in Usage

You’ve all seen two very similar sounding words: “further” and “farther.” Despite some ideas to the contrary, these are not American versus British spellings. “Further” and “farther” are two different words, despite sounding the same and having close meanings.

“Furthest” and “farthest” are both the superlative form of “far.” As irregular adjectives, they describe distance. However, these terms are nuanced in what type of distance they describe. You’ll use “farther” to describe physical distances and “further” for metaphorical distances. 

Generally, you can use both “furthest” and “farthest” interchangeably, but sometimes, only one is correct. There are a few more nuances to these terms, so keep reading for easy strategies to make sure you’re always using the correct word in your writing.

Difference between “Farthest” and “Furthest”

Irregular adjectives are always a little tricky, but once you have learned the difference between them, you’ll often wonder how you could have confused them at all. 

“Farthest” and “furthest” are superlative adjectives, and both describe distance. What separates them from one another is what type of distance each refers to. When it comes to measurable distance, “farther” is the right call.

Conversely, when it comes to figurative distances, “further” is your best bet (source). For example, if you were talking about the gap that has emerged between yourself and your best friend, you would say that you had drifted further apart. 

This distance is not physical but rather refers to the metaphorical distance between two people. Anyone who has experienced such pain knows that that distance feels more like a chasm. 

You can also use “further” as an adjective or a verb that indicates “more,” “a higher level,” or “extra.” In this case, “farther” is incorrect. In other words, further can also indicate the advancement of time or degree.

You might be asking yourself why such a distinction between the two words even exists, but there is no historical confirmation of their changing meanings. 

“Further” is definitely the older word, coming from Germanic roots through Old English (source). “Farther” was a variant that came along in the 14th century from the word “further,” and their different meanings became more solidified over time.

Imagery Qimono via Pixabay

When to Use “Farther” Versus “Further”

“Further” functions as both an adjective and a verb. It has several definitions that you can learn to help you in knowing which is the correct form.

As an adjective or adverb, “further” refers to distance. “Farther” also refers to distance, but the distinction comes within the type of distance you are describing. Remember that “farther,” spelled with an a, refers to physical distance, while “further” refers to figurative or metaphorical distance (source).

However, a lot of people do not distinguish between them, and they also use “further” when referring to physical distance, so it is more important to know how to determine if you should not use “farther.”

“Further” and “farther” are both comparative forms, so when you use each, there should be some comparison made using the word “than.”

Here are a few examples:

Use of further/fartherType of distance
He has moved his desk farther away from me.physical distance between the subject and the desk
She is further along in her career than I am.figurative distance of career development
Adam just keeps drifting further and further away from me.figurative distance of emotional connection
Today, I walked farther than I ever had! physical distance of movement

Another definition of “further” in its adjectival form indicates something more or a higher level. “Farther” is not applicable in this scenario. 

When you use “further” as a verb, you will define it as moving something forward or making progress. However, “furthest” cannot be a verb. And once again, you cannot use “farther” as a verb, making this distinction a simpler one. 

With all these definitions and distinctions, it is easy to see why “further” is most likely to be the correct form in your writing. However, we can break it down further.

Irregular Adjectives

Irregular adjectives are a challenge for many English learners. Just like every other rule in English, such as knowing which comparative and superlative form is correct, there are exceptions. 

Irregular adjectives are one of those exceptions, but even more solid rules are open for interpretation. To find out more about comparative and superlative adjectives, read “Clearer or More Clear: Understanding Proper Usage” to know which rules apply when.

There are several irregular adjectives, the most common being “good – better – best” and “bad – worse – worst.” On the other hand, the comparative and superlative form of “far” raises some questions as there are two possible forms for both. 

However, when in doubt, “further” and “furthest” are most likely to be correct since you can use “farther” and “farthest” only in very specific situations. You can usually replace “farther” with “further” without anyone questioning your grammar knowledge.

“Furthest” Meaning

Since “furthest” has quite a few meanings, let us begin by breaking down its usage.

“Furthest” is the superlative form of “far,” and you’ll use it as an indication of figurative distance. When we cannot measure or quantify the distance, “furthest” is the correct form to use. As it is a superlative, we should always preface “furthest” with “the.”

Using “Furthest” in a Sentence

Below you’ll find a few example sentences, along with explanations for why “furthest” is the correct choice.

“Furthest” as an indication of figurative distance

ExampleJustification
This is the furthest I’ve ever felt from him.Figurative distance – these two people are not as emotionally linked as they used to be.
He’s an interesting man, but his philosophies are the furthest from the truth.Figurative distance between philosophies and truth, both abstract concepts.
South Africa is the furthest in human rights on the continent.Figurative distance — it refers to the progress of South Africa’s human rights laws compared to all other countries on the continent.
I vow that I will reach the furthest parts of the galaxy!Figurative distance – space is not measurable in this context.

“Furthest” to indicate a higher level or something extra

ExampleJustification
The furthest I’ve gone in my career has been as a manager.This shows the progression of a career.
She had driven me to the furthest extremes!This shows the progression of behavior.
The newspaper has gone the furthest to rouse public opinion.This shows the progression of media coverage. 

“Further” functioning as a verb

ExampleJustification
He was using them to further his own career.Further indicates the progression of a career.
Her plans for world domination are furthering.Further indicates the progression of a plan.
You can always count on Mary to further the interest of others.Further indicates the progression of other people’s interests.

Review

To test your knowledge, read the sentences below and consider if “furthest” is correct in each context.

  1. I am competing to see who can swim the furthest.
  2. When the economy took a downturn, this industry suffered the furthest.
  3. I’m the furthest along in the book club book.
  4. Food was the furthest thing from my mind.
  5. Neptune is now the furthest planet from the sun.

The answers are as follows: incorrect, correct, incorrect, correct, and incorrect. 

Although technically all are correct, since “furthest” is a flexible term, three of the answers refer to physical distances, which you can express with “farthest.”

Hopefully, these example sentences will give you an idea of how and when to use “furthest.” Another helpful resource is Dreyer’s English, an incredible guide on Amazon for those finicky grammar questions. To learn more about “farthest” and correct usage, read on.

The Meaning of “Farthest” 

The easiest definition of “farther” is that it is an adjective that indicates space or distance between two objects. As we have discussed previously, space or distance has to be something measurable or physical.

A strategy for knowing when to use “farther” is to think about what you are describing. Anything you can see or imagine, you should write with “farther,” and anything difficult to quantify should be with “further.”

You’ll often use “farthest” to create a comparison with someone or something else. Despite “furthest” being a superlative adjective, it rarely compares people or objects, and you’ll use it for more abstract concepts.

Using “Farthest” in a Sentence

When you use “farthest,” it is good to remember that you should use the word for measurable distances. Whether it’s in meters, miles, millimeters, or gigaparsecs (3.26 billion light-years of distance), “farther” should be your go-to term (source).

ExampleJustification
My house is the farthest from my school.This length is measurable when we know where the school and home are.
Where is the farthest place you’ve ever gone to on holiday?This distance is measurable once you know the answer to the question.
Let us see who can jump the farthest!This distance is measurable once the competition is over.

As you can see, “farthest” is not common lexis, and people only use it in specific circumstances. 

Let’s test your knowledge again. Read the sentences below and decide if “farthest” is correct in each context.

  1. I’m the farthest from the truth.
  2. I walked the farthest to get to the fast-food restaurant.
  3. The farthest school from here is about 25 miles.
  4. I’m really not a leader. In fact, I’m the farthest thing from a leader.
  5. At the furthest, it’s a 5-minute walk.

The answers for these are as follows: incorrect, correct, correct, incorrect, and correct. 

The two that are incorrect are so because they refer to figurative distance, and you cannot use “farthest” in that context.

Another article that will assist you in distinguishing between comparative and superlatives is “Cleverer or More Clever: Which Is Correct?” Even without irregular adjectives, knowledge about different forms can only be helpful to you.

Other Uses of “Further”

You can also use “further” as a sentence modifier, although its usage as a standalone term is relatively uncommon. You are more likely to see the phrase “furthermore” instead. In both cases, you can use the word to introduce a new statement or add additional information to a previous one.

Since “furthermore” also acts as a conjunctive adverb, you can use it to join two independent clauses together (source). To use “furthermore” correctly, replace it with “in addition.” If your sentence still makes sense, then “furthermore” is the correct word.

Examples:

  • There is a lot of anger in him. Further, I think there may be psychological issues.
  • I believe this is the only course of action. Furthermore, it’s the only right thing to do. 
  • I don’t want to go to work; furthermore, they don’t pay me enough to be there.

Another way you can also use “further” is in formal communication. You’ll use it to refer to previous communication, like a letter or email, and ask for a follow-up. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com

Example:

Further to my previous letter, I would like your thoughts on the quote and whether we should move ahead with the project.

Tips for Usage

If you find yourself struggling, these rules should help you know when to use “furthest” (source).

First, if you can imagine the distance in your mind, then use “farther” or “farthest.”

Second, when referring to something improving or making progress, then “farther” and “farthest” are not applicable.

Third, you cannot use “farther” or “farthest” as a verb.

Fourth, “farther” and “farthest” have to appear in full sentences or clauses.

Finally, when in doubt, use “further.” 

Final Thoughts

Why do we even have two different forms of a word when one will do well enough? If it helps, the words “farther” and “farthest” are both falling out of favor. From their peak in the early 1700s, both have consistently declined in usage.

As more and more words enter the English language, there is a call for simplicity, and many words are becoming archaic through lack of usage. “Farthest” is one of those. As its usage declines (pardon the pun), English speakers move further towards “further” and are quite content with the singular form.