So I just got my copy of The Elements of Style by Strunk & White…a little bible of sorts for authors, and one that I haven’t cracked open in at least twenty years. I’ve been banging out the words quite a bit lately in anticipation of getting my first two books published (one novel, one collection of short stories). I’ve been worried that since I haven’t taken a formal English Composition class or Creative Writing class in many years (and prior to the two I took about six years ago it has been at least a decade before that), my proper writing skills would be incredibly rusty, worthless, and cringe-inducing. I think this is the worry of any author, really.
Funny thing though…as I’m reading through this invaluable little book, I find myself constantly bragging to my wife that I’ve yet to find a rule that I either break on a regular basis, or have broken in a way that is improper. I’m not going to claim that I am the #1 Master of the English Language and Writing. That would be foolish, and real authors would flame me until there were only molecules left of my existence. I tend to break the rules that are laid out in Elements on purpose. On the pages where I’m not intentionally breaking the rules, I almost never break these rules (which I will state here that some are claiming are outdated and not very useful in this day and age…to which I say BOLLOCKS!) even accidentally.
So as I’m reading, I had a sudden idea that I would like to do a regular bit where I talk about some of the most confusing aspects of writing. Things that still regularly plague me. Things that make me say, “Thank your favorite deity for Google.com!”
Writer’s Confusion #1 – Further vs. Farther:
This one always gets me. I have to look this up almost every time the usage of either of these words comes up in my writing. You’d think I would be able to remember the rules of these two words after having to look it up at least one hundred times (per year!).
Farther – farther is to be used to measure distance. You kick a football farther than another kid. You moved farther away from your best friend.A trick to remember is that the word ‘farther’ contains ‘far’.
Further – further is to be used in relation to time or quantity. Our vacation days are further out than we thought. He called for further examination of the evidence.
Keep in mind that both words are fairly ambiguous and can be interchanged without much issue from the Grammar Fascists that like to find you anywhere you hide on the internet and challenge your ability to write properly. Strunk & White might give you a half-frown if you used further to talk about distance, but I would feel confident in saying that they wouldn’t waste energy trolling you about it.
BONUS: its vs. it’s (this is something I will probably repeat every couple of Writer’s Confusions that I post!)
Its – this is a possessive. The dog couldn’t find its bone.
It’s – this is a contraction of it is. It’s a wonderful day, we should be outside instead of reading this stupid blog.