Hungover vs. Hung Over

By Maeve Maddox

A reader feels that the adjective to describe the state of experiencing the effects of too much alcohol should be an open compound:

I would be really grateful if you would address whether or not the compound noun ‘hangover’ retains its closed form when used as an adjective (‘she was hungover’). I feel irked when it does, and that it should become open (‘she was hung over’) but because I can’t define “hung’ or ‘over’ in the context of suffering from the after-effects of alcohol, I haven’t been able to force my case.

A tedious (if not particularly scientific) inquiry has led me to conclude that it’s every man for himself when it comes to choosing between hung over and hungover.

The adjective is hyphenated as hung-over in the OED. Merriam-Webster prefers the closed compound hungover, but allows hung over as an alternative. The Oxford Australian dictionary gives hung-over, and the Oxford Canadian dictionary gives hungover. The spelling and grammar feature in Microsoft Word recommends either hung-over or hung over.

Searching for the terms “was hungover” and “was hung over,” I found that the open compound seems to be more common than the closed.

Corpus of American English
“was hung over” twice as common as “was hungover”

Google Search
“was hungover” about 128,000 hits
“was hung over” about 138,000 hits

Ngram Viewer
“was hung over” on the graph from 1800-2000.
“was hungover” first appears in 1928, begins to rise in the 1960s, but remains much less common than “was hung over.”

Here are some examples from around the English-speaking world:

Australia
Hung-over Beale was O’Connor’s booze buddy—Brisbane Times

Tony Abbott accused of being hungover—Brisbane Times

Canada
At least Rob was drunk, high or hung over much of the time.—The Star (Toronto).

The hungover prime minister of Canada and his stumblebum cabinet members don’t know…—Ifpress (Ontario)

UK
A new survey by Macmillan Cancer Support suggests that Britons spend 315 days—nearly a year of their lives—hungover.—The Guardian.

Welcome to the glamorous world of James McAvoy, extremely hungover movie star.—London Times.

Pilot jailed after flying executive jet from Spain while hungover from three-day drinking binge—London Evening Standard.

USA
Woody Harrelson Was So Hung Over He Could Barely Stand At A Recent Movie Premier—Huffington Post.

Of course, if you are truly hung-over, there is simply no way you’re going to work.—New York Magazine.

“Come on,” commanded the CIA station chief of the hungover prime minister, “we’ve got a lot of work to do.”—Book about the CIA published by Simon and Schuster, 2012.

My advice to the reader is to save his feelings of irritation for something that matters and spell the adjective for “suffering from the after-effects of alcohol” as two words when it follows a being verb and as one word when it precedes a noun.

Or not.

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5 Responses to “Hungover vs. Hung Over”

  • Nancy R.

    For me, the “hungover” vs. “hung over” decision is decided by my ear. The word “hangover” is customarily pronounced “HANG-o-ver,” with the stress on the first syllable. I hear adjective as “hung-O-ver,” with the stress on the O. It makes more sense to me to write it “hung over,” as two words… just my preference, I guess. If we pronounced it “HUNG-o-ver,” then spelling it “hungover” would work.

  • AnWulf

    I write it as one word unless I am hanging over sumthing.

    The ngram can be misleading with this string of words. It’ll pick out the string of words whether it is an adj or a verbal phrase.

    A few quotes to show that the string ‘was hung over’ might not hav anything to do with a hangover:

    At the end of. a packthread 40 feet long, was hung over a pulley one ounce.
    the fall of a small boat which was hung over the main deck
    it was hung over the door together

  • Dale A. Wood

    So many writers have lost their ability to write compound words in English that I would insist on “hungover”. Those people think that as look as it sounds O.K., then it is all right. Such writers spoil all of the statistics of Ngram and Google search to the point on invalidity.

    Also, AnWulf is correct. There are other uses of “hung over”. E.g. “The hangman’s noose was hung over a beam in the ceiling of the auditorium so that the traitor could hanged over there in Berlin.” (“hanged over there” and not “hung over there”)
    I would rather be hungover there than hanged over there in Berlin, London, Sydney, Baghdad, Toronto, or anywhere else.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    I mistyped “long” as “look”, which looks silly.
    I was trying to use the idiom “as long as”.

    AnWulf is quite correct, I emphasize.

  • Dale A. Wood

    One of the problems with statistics is using skewed statistics and not realizing it.

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