Grammar Guy: Down the rabbit hole
“A quandary I would love to see you address in a future column is the proper usage of ‘further’ vs. ‘farther’, and if there are any helpful tricks for remembering which to use when.”
— Taina L., Zionsville, IN
First of all, Taina, I appreciate that at least one person is reading this column! And, just between you and me, I was an English major for one semester in college, so I’m totally qualified to dole out grammar advice.
The easiest way to decide which word to use in your specific syntactic situation is this: use “farther” when you’re referring to physical distance and “further” when you’re describing figurative or metaphorical distance. What’s great is that “farther” has the word “far” in it, and you already know that “far” deals with physical distance.
I’ll share a hypothetical example: suppose Rick and Gary are flying to the moon in order to expose the moon landing as a massive, deep state government cover up. For the record, I do not subscribe to that opinion, but Rick and Gary do. They’ve built a space vessel, successfully rocketed out of Earth’s upper atmosphere, and are now cruising weightlessly toward their lunar destination. Gary, who is chronically impatient, turns to Rick, the pilot of the ship, and asks, “Rick! Are we there yet? How much farther?” Gary is referring to a physical distance, so “farther” is correct.
Later in their journey, Rick and Gary are passing time by discussing various conspiracy theories. As Gary rambles on about how lizard people actually built the pyramids, he remarks, “Rick! Don’t you get it? How much further down the rabbit hole can we go?” While on one hand, you could argue that a rabbit hole is a physical distance, in this instance the rabbit hole Gary refers to is figurative, so “further” is correct.
On the bright side, if it’s unclear which word to use because you can’t determine if you’re referring to physical or figurative distance, most experts agree “farther” and “further” can be used interchangeably. And, when in doubt, as a general rule, use “further” because “farther” is more restrictive.
— Curtis Honeycutt is a freelance humor writer. Connect with him on Twitter (@curtishoneycutt) or at curtishoneycutt.com.