No longer so troubling – farther, further, good, well, bad, badly

The Writingessentialsbyellen.com blog has a new “look”: posts will be shorter so that readers can get the essential questions answered quickly, but links will be provided to previous and new essays that go deeper into the language usage and controversy points. Reply to the post to let me know how you like the new format. Ellen ~~

This post continues with a brief look at pairs of words that often troubled or confused writers. As noted below and in the longer essays on these word pairs, people have had no trouble using these words interchangeably and so called “nonstandard” usage has even crept into formal writing.

farther vs. further

The traditional (or purist) rule states that when speaking of physical and measurable distances, farther or farthest is used; when speaking of figurative distance, metaphorical advancement, or an extension of time or degree, further or furthest is used (grammar.com).

Bryan A. Garner, who tends to be conservative in his usage recommendations, asserts that “in the best usage” this distinction should be maintained (Modern American Usage 340). However, the difference between controversial or often confused words, like farther/further or bad/badly (discussed in next section) is not always far. These words have been used interchangeably over hundreds of years, and other contemporary usage guides cite evidence in contemporary publications that they continue to be interchangeable.

Further also has the meaning of “additional” (adjective form) or “additionally” (adverb form):

Adjective: I have no further questions. (grammarist.com)

Adverb: He was further annoyed by a second interruption. (yourdictionary.com)

Though there is evidence of the use of “farther” as an adjective meaning “additional,” this use is rare and farther is never used as a sentence adverb, as in the following example: *Farther, I’d like to address the issue of why these words are so confusing. (merriam-webster.com)

(The asterisk denotes an “improper” or “incorrect” sentence. The proper sentence would be this: Further, I’d like to address the issue of why these words are so confusing.)

good vs. well; bad vs. badly

Traditional grammar books usually make the distinction that good is an adjective and well is nearly always an adverb and its only “proper” use. The pair bad/badly have been regarded in a similar fashion: the adjective bad can follow the linking verb feel, while the adverb badly must be used with a non-linking (or active) verb.

In an article in a grammar and usage section of writing tips called “Doing Good and Doing It Well,” a playful “Story” is presented playing with this interchange:

“Once upon a time, long, long, ago, well was good, and good was well, well was doing good, and good was doing well, and the world was fine, and it was good. Then the Grammarians swept in from the East, riding large horses, and everything changed. The Grammarians did bad, and it was bad, and they thought they were doing well at doing good, but they were doing bad, and doing good very badly. Alas.

With the Grammarians came the advent of ‘linking verbs’ and ‘subject complements,’ and darkness fell across the land.” (wordrake.com/writing tips)

More usage experts have begun arguing against these prescriptions saying that they do not reflect the nature of the English language (especially with linking verbs) or the history or current usage in which “non-standard” usage has become more common in speech and is often accepted in formal writing, as noted in the American Heritage Guide (51).

(References: grammar.com; Garner’s Modern American Usage; grammarist.com; yourdictionary.com; merriam-webster.com; American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style; wordrake.com.)

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