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Both of them translate as "far", but what are the differences in meaning and usage?

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Fern:

"Fern" (nearly synonymous with "entfernt") is used to describe something taking place far away (in time, in space or figuratively), cf. to English: "distant", "far away" or something like that.

"Dich zu beleidigen, liegt mir fern!"

"Vielleicht sehen wir uns eines nicht allzu fernen Tages wieder."

"Eines Tages will ich in ein fernes Land ziehen."

"Dieser Vorschlag ist realitätsfern!"

"Weit"

"Weit" can be used much more often, with more different meanings. Linguee also suggests "broad", "large", "wide", "vast" and "ample" as different translations for "weit", it also lists different examples. More examples can be found here.

"Die Hose ist mir zu weit" (-> "wide")

"Dieses Forschungsthema ist ein weites Feld" (-> "broad")

"Der Kapitän ließ seinen Blick über das weite Meer schweifen" (-> "vast")

However, it can also have a very similar meaning to "fern".

"Diese Entscheidung liegt noch weit in der Zukunft."

Here, you might as well write:

"Diese Entscheidung liegt noch fern in der Zukunft."

To me, the tiny difference would be that "weit" generally rather refers to the quality of the distance or extension between the speaker and something far away, whereas "fern" only states that a thing is far away, as in:

"Der Weg ist noch weit."

vs.

"Das Ziel liegt fern."

  • "Fern" can often be translated as "remote", as in "Fernbedienung" = "Remote control". – RHa Jul 16 '17 at 15:32
  • "Weit" kann auch komplett ohne räumliche Komponente verwendet werden. "Zu weit gehen". "Man ist weit gekommen". Hierfür scheidet "fern" als Ersatz aus. – Gerhardh Jul 16 '17 at 21:11

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