Tricky English Words: Far

Students often feel frustrated when they think they know the meaning of a word but then hear it used in a new way. Let’s use the word “far” as our example.

  • Where do you live? Is it far from here?
  • Let’s take the bus. It’s too far to walk.

Most students first learn “far” as an adverb that means “a big distance away.”

But then, they see sentences like:

  • The TOEFL was far more difficult than I expected.
  • Seeing a dentist in Mexico is far less expensive than in the U.S.

In the sentences above, the adverb “far” isn’t talking about distance. Instead, it is being used with “more” and “less” to intensify the adjective. It gives the feeling of “much more” difficult or “much less” expensive.

Or maybe students see:

  • It’s the best Thai restaurant in Portland by far.
  • Running a marathon was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

In these sentences, the phrase “by far” means “more than any other one” or “to the greatest degree.”

Or perhaps students see:

  • The teacher has given four examples so far.
  • So far, I’ve visited three U.S. cities: Portland, Las Vegas, and New York.

Here, “far” is part of a time phrase that means “from the past until now.”

How can students know what the word “far” means if it can mean so many different things? They have to use the context to help them. Context means the sentence or sentences in which the word occurs. The context should make clear how the word “far” is being used.

Let’s try! Read the examples below and decide if the word “far” is:

a) talking about distance

b) intensifying

c) saying more than any other

d) telling about time

  1. China has the largest population by far of any other country.
  2. She feels homesick living so far from her family.
  3. So far, I have been studying this grammar for 15 minutes.
  4. The weather in this city is far nicer than I expected.
  5. I can’t believe he’s eaten 3 hotdogs so far!
  6. The Olympic games are by far the most important sports competition in the world.
  7. You can’t travel very far without money.
  8. Fresh fruit and vegetables are far healthier snacks than potato chips.

(Check your answers below)

 

Let’s try! Answers: 1) c, 2) a, 3) d, 4) b, 5) d, 6) c, 7) a, 8) b

 

Let’s practice!  Can you make a sentence using “far” in one of these four ways to answer these questions?

Whare_are_the_stars

Where are the stars?

Wealthy Man

How wealthy is Bill Gates?

Pie_Eating

How many pies have they eaten in the pie eating contest?

Blue_Diamond

How large is this diamond? How does it compare to other diamonds you’ve seen?

 

Let’s practice! Possible answers:

The stars are far from the Earth.

Bill Gates is far wealthier than I am. In fact, he is one of the wealthiest men on Earth by far.

They have eaten two or three pies each so far.

The blue diamond is far bigger than the white diamonds. It is by far one of the biggest diamonds I’ve seen.

 

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