Mar 05, 2012

Grammar Hammer: Marching Further or Farther?

Via this column, we’ll explore one grammar rule each week. If you have a grammar question you’d like me to address, please drop me a line at grace.lavigne@prnewswire.com and I’ll do my best to answer it.

March 4 (this past Sunday) was National Grammar Day, since it’s the only date that can also be interpreted as a command — march forth!

When someone says “march forth/fourth,” you might not be sure how to interpret it (although context obviously helps) because “fourth” and “forth” are homophonic heterographs (i.e., words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings).

Since marching bands are probably the most common (only?) users of the phrase “march forth,” let’s help them out for National Grammar Day this year by explaining whether they march “further” or “farther” down the field during practice.

Main Rule: “Farther” is related to physical distance, and “further” is related to metaphorical distance.

1. “Farther” references the space between two objects in the real world. Check grammaticality by replacing “farther” with “more miles” or “more feet” or “more inches,” for example. It’s easy to remember because it has the word “far” in it (not “fur”).

  • The grand marshal made the high-school band students march farther than ever before — 10 miles!
  • Moving farther away from the group, he checked his plans.
  • Maybe it was just his view, but their formation didn’t look right, so the drum major moved farther up the grandstand.

2. “Further” references abstract distance (like time, for instance) that isn’t tangible.

  • The grand marshal pressed the students further because he was planning a secret formation: the squid.
  • The further he pushed the complexity of the design, the better the chances of winning the national championships.
  • But for now, he was stuck with a bunch of ungrateful teenagers, which drove him further into depression.

3. Note: According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “further” or “farther” (as adverbs, like the examples shown above) can actually be used interchangeably when relating to either physical or metaphorical distances (although it’s preferable to follow the rules). However, when there is no reference to distance, only “further” can be used, so when in doubt, it’s safer to use “further.”

  • The grand marshal would disappear for hours to further refine the plans. (“Further refine” doesn’t refer to physical or metaphysical distance.)

4. “Further” can also be a verb that means “to impel” or “to push” or “to drive” and it can never be interchangeable with “farther.”

  • He figured if the kids could pull this off, it would further his career; someday, he dreamed of being the leader of the president’s personal marching band.

5. “Further” can also be used as a sentence modifier. Check grammaticality by replacing it with words like “furthermore” or “additionally.”

  • The grand marshal spent his nights going over the squid-formation plans step by step. Further, he studied squid shapes online to make sure it was just right.

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Dear Gracie is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

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