Hang, Hung, Hanged

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Hang derives from Old English and means to be attached from above without support below. This is one of the core meanings, as shown in the sentence: The picture hangs on the wall.

However, there are several other related uses, for example:

  • To let droop or fall – hang your head in shame.
  • To fall in a certain way – this costume hangs well.
  • To pay attention to – I hang on your every word.
  • To hold on tightly – My daughter is hanging onto my skirt.
  • A way of doing something – She couldn’t get the hang of it.
  • To be oppressive – a cloud of gloom hangs over him.

The regular past tense of hang is hung, which would be used in all the examples listed above. However, there is one difference when it comes to hanging someone by the neck. In this case the past tense is hanged which means killed by hanging.

Here are some quotations from the newspapers:

… before American forces chased him from his capital city and captured him in a filthy pit near his hometown, was hanged just before dawn Saturday during the morning call to prayer. … (www.nytimes.com)

… Secrets,” he printed the pieces of personal data on sheets of paper using a special liquid solution. The sheets were hung in neat rows and columns on a wall. Museumgoers could only see the data under a special light source, and key … (www.nytimes.com)

… Met Breuer in 2016-2017.After it was acquired for McCormick Square, the painting hung in the hallway of the convention center for years with very little protection, making it liable to theft or damage, … (www.nytimes.com)

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22 thoughts on “Hang, Hung, Hanged”

  1. While I know it’s right, “hanged” in the last entrace always seems wrong. I noticed when Saddam Hussein was executed a lot of newspapers got it wrong too, saying he was “hung.”

  2. Surely you wouldn’t use the past tense in the example “She couldn’t get the hang of it”, would you?!
    I read you blog every day – it is a very productive way of improving my English!

  3. ‘Hung’ is not the past-tense for all the examples above. Nouns have no past-tense form, therefore the past-tense form lof “to get the hang of something” is “to have gotten the hang of something.” Do not give the impression that ‘hang’ changes in that case.

  4. And what about a hangover in past tense? Hanged over or hungover? I use the latter but know many people who use the first. Which is correct?

  5. Thanks for your great blog, here you gave me a really good answer to a question that I have had several times lately, when I have read things online where people use “hanged” as past tense of “hang” instead of “hung” (none of them referring to hanging by the neck). The last one I read, was a flower decoration website where they write:
    “Next, cut the flowers in short lengths. Insert the pom poms first. It would be best to work on the bridal pomander if it is hanged on something else.” – I gather that the bridal pomander should be hung rather than hanged on something else, since pomanders (at least to my knowledge) does not have a neck to be hanged by. Well, I guess the flowers have a neck, but the flowers weren’t hung by the neck and pr. definition I guess they were already (sort of) dead, since they were already cut (yet not decapitated?)… 😉

    It is just so confusing for me when people who I know use English as their mother tongue writes something that sounds/looks like an error to me. I always end out questioning MY own English, since English is not my mother tongue – thinking that they should know a lot better than I do. Since I’m not sure, I regularly end out having to search for answers, to clarify whether or not I need to remember to change the way I write something. Today (again!) I had to conclude that even if I’m not from an English speaking country, my memory isn’t that bad when it comes to what we were taught in school way back when. It really seems to me that a lot of people does not master the *basics* of their own language very well. I wonder if the case is that many just do NOT CARE when it comes to written text. Even in articles in newspapers and magazines, BASIC errors are made, something that very rarely happened before. Then the media seemed to take pride in their usage of their language and articles were diligently proof-read… With the fancy spell checkers etc. that we have today, one could expect that things got better, but instead it has got a lot worse, I think. Schools should focus more on these things, and make kids proud of mastering their language (grammar, spelling etc.), because it is a sad to see how much errors are made now (not unique to English, it’s the same with my language, Norwegian and I have seen examples of the same in Danish and Swedish too, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it is a global problem).

    Hmmm… I can’t help myself, I think it is annoying! And that also includes oral use of terms, not just in writing. E.g. yesterday I watched Judge Judy on a local cable channel. She said that doing something was the person’s “perogative”. She is quite quick to comment if somebody else uses some term or phrase wrongly, and she frequently tells people that she is smarter than they are. If she is that bright, she should know that the term is “prerogative”, and that it should NOT be pronounced with a silent ‘r’ either! Hmmm… Wonder if she would have said: “correct pronounciation is perogative”, LOL… Well, I guess it would be her prerogative to say ‘pronounciation’ rather than ‘pronunciation’ – after all, she is a mighty judge AND she even plays one on TV, right? 😉

    When it comes to hangovers, which some commenters have mentioned, I have always thought that e.g. “He was pretty hung over after that party.” sounds right… Doesn’t it? It sounds right to me too to use two separate words rather than “hungover”. Or?

    Thanks again and sorry for the long tirade! I guess I’ve been pretty darn frustrated… 😉 I’ll get off that soap box now! 🙂

  6. So why does Professor Higgins say “He should be taken out and hung, for the cold blooded murder of the English tongue”?

  7. This exact subject was discussed in my 3rd grade class. I always thought that it was obvious, and common knowledge. I am surprised that it is so unknown to many adults.

  8. And how about a man who is well-endowed or hung…”pictures are hung but people are hanged” is a standard that wouldn’t work in this case. The man is well-hanged can lead to variant meanings i.e., hanged by the neck correctly. A hung jury is a different matter…unless, I suppose, all members of the jury were male and happy.

  9. Thanks for posting this. I think this is the most common mistake I see around. That and the wrong spelling of definitely. (How many times have I seen definately!)

  10. @Lotta.. Hi! I read what you have posted and I can’t stop myself to tell you the fact that you’ve made a mistake in the 9th line of your second paragraph. I am sure it should be “do not” and not “does not”.
    No offence, just a correction. 🙂

  11. @Gul… I realize you left your post a while ago, but I am perplexed as to why you singled out Lotta when there are grammatical, spelling or punctuational(?) errors throughout the majority of the posts. Even in your own: “…I can’t stop myself to tell you…” would be less awkward (perhaps) if worded, “…I can’t help but to mention” or “…I would be remiss unless I brought it to your attention you’ve made a mistake…”

    Well, really no harm and no foul to anyone. I have always heard that English is difficult to learn. It is helpful when your parents/teachers and those who influence and shape our vocabulary and speech are concerned with the nuances early on, but can be difficult as time goes on since language is truly dynamic.

    When I was born, “ain’t” was not in the dictionary. Mom used to despise hearing the word since it was not a true contraction (ain + not). Now, it, and many other words ARE in the dictionary, but their admission is less due to linguistic correctness as repeated over (mis)use. We make the effort to explain how that dynamic developed and why we now ‘accept’ it as well as how to ‘properly’ use it.

    I like English — even if there are a great many of exceptions to each rule.

  12. I was told as a child that inanimate objects can be hung but people can only be hanged. (There was also a little poem that went with it, but it was too racy and I didn’t memorize the whole thing.

  13. I think its wrong to imply that in your examples the meaning of hang changes, more accuratly I believe your examples are a series of commonly used metaphores and analogies still relying on the literal meaning of the word hang to paint a mental image of the concept or event. If I say “the words spilled out of his mouth” the meaning of “spilled” doesn’t change it just isn’t being used literally. If you fall in love, you probably didn’t actually fall, but your using the concept of falling to relate an emotional event.

  14. Coobs, to say that hang only has one meaning, or does not change meaning is just not true…even discounting idioms, there are several very distinct meanings for hang:

    1. To fasten from above with no support from below; suspend.
    2. To suspend or fasten so as to allow free movement at or about the point of suspension: hang a door.
    3. past tense and past participle hanged (hngd)
    a. To execute by suspending by the neck: They hanged the prisoner at dawn.
    b. Used to express exasperation or disgust: I’ll be hanged! Hang it all!
    4. To fix or attach at an appropriate angle: hang a scythe to its handle.
    5. To alter the hem of (a garment) so as to fall evenly at a specified height.
    6. To furnish, decorate, or appoint by suspending objects around or about: hang a room with curtains.
    7. To hold or incline downward; let droop: hang one’s head in sorrow.
    8. Informal To make (a turn in a specific direction): At the next intersection, hang a right.

    Hanging a curtain, hanging your head, hanging onto someone’s hand–these are not idioms, they are distinct and seperate meanings of the word hang.

  15. Jim sorenson. To say that “to hang your head”, “hanging a curtain”, and “hanging onto somebodies hand” are seperate and distinct meanings of the word hang unrelated and not derivitive of the meaning of “to suspend from the top whith no support from below” is a rediculous assertion. Do you mean to imply that if hang didn’t have this literal meaning we would still use the phrase “hang your head”?, no we wouldn’t because the statement would lack meaning and impact. If I say your “cold hearted” I don’t mean your heart is literally cold, but if cold didn’t mean of low relative temperature the phrase cold hearted would be useless in conveying a person of a firm unwelcoming disposition. I’m not saying that everytime the word hang is used it means the same thing, just as cold in my previous example and spilled in my previous post, do not always manifest in their literal meanings, I’m saying that all meanings of hang are dependent on and derivitive of its literal meaning.

  16. Also mr. Sorenson, I understand we live in an age where information is easily accessable and anyone can feel like an expert on a subject in a matter of seconds by simply typing a couple of key words but the next time you would like to dispute the position of someone, maybe you should try utilizing logic and original thought before cutting and pasting the first results you get from google and the free dictionary.

  17. I think hanged is more appropriate when the person doing the action is the subject. “The mob hanged the suspect.”

    “The mob hung the suspect.” does not sound right.

    If the receiver of the action is the subject, the verb could be either hanged or hung but would need a helping verb in either case.. “The suspect was hanged by the crowd.” or “The suspect was hung by the crowd.”

    Semantic differences arise and many people use an identified male as a subject with a form of “to be” without a prepositional phrase after the word hung, in this case used as an adjective, to describe his sexual endowment. “The man is hung.”

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