A matter of distance: farther and further

I am working on a project in a small, somewhat isolated office at the N&O. We’re helping to set up a new publishing system. The work is interesting to a geek like me, but one of the chief benefits is that I am in close proximity to three other experienced copy editors. So we have discussions like the one we had recently about farther and further.

One colleague referred to the Associated Press Stylebook’s entry: Farther refers to physical distance. … Further refers to an extension of time or degree. So you walk farther down the street and look further into a matter.

Bryan A. Garner in his "Dictionary of American Usage" agrees. "In best usage, farther refers to physical distances, further to figurative distance." Other usage experts I checked make the same distinction.

But I have a little trouble with this. If I am referring to something that is lower on a newspaper page or a Web page, do I say that it is "farther down" or "further down"? Is that a physical distance? What if I am referring to a story that is on an inside page? Do I tell a reader, "If you look farther [or further] into the paper, you will find the answer"? My instinct tells me that, in the first case, when I am referring to the same page, I would say "farther," but that in the second case, I should choose "further." Lucky for me, I haven’t had to make this choice. I would just tell the reader to turn to page number X to find what he or she is looking for.

I like Jack A. Lynch’s advice on this choice too: "Don’t get upset if you can’t keep it straight; no one will notice."

By the way, I have always worked with smart copy editors who care about such things and have learned a great deal from them over the years. The N&O and its readers have benefited from their brains and their commitment.



This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.