Hanged versus hung

Hanged Versus Hung

What’s the Difference Between Hanged and Hung?

Hanged and hung are both the simple past and past participle forms of the same verb. However, they have slightly different meanings.

Hanged is the past tense form of the verb hang. It refers to when a person dies by hanging from his or her neck.

  • In the past, many men were hanged for their crimes. People would often gather to watch the hanging occur.

Hung is also the past form of hang. It refers to any object that is suspended, from near its top, over the ground. It does not refer to people, and it doesn’t deal with death.

  • My grandmother hung new curtains at her house last weekend.

Let’s look at some of the ways to use these words in English.

Using Hanged in a Sentence

When to use hanged: Hanged is the simple past and past participle form of the verb hang, in the sense of putting a noose around a person’s neck to strangle them to death, or to break their neck in the fall from the gallows.

For example,

  • Police found a hanged man on an old oak tree along a country road this morning and currently have no suspects.
  • Many criminals were hanged in the past, but nowadays death by lethal injection is the most common form of capital punishment.
  • Although the man’s family was sad that he had hanged to death, they were glad that the fall broke his neck, so at least it was quick.

Interestingly, the reason that hanged is different than hung is because in Old English, there were two different words for hang. The present tense forms of hang became the same over time, but the past tense forms remained different.

Using Hung in a Sentence

When to use hung: Hung is also the past tense of hang. However, it should never refer to a person hanging by his or her neck. Rather, it refers to any other type of hanging.

For example:

Hang, Hung, Hanged

Hanged Versus Hung

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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Hanged or Hung?

Posted on: 11-17-2012 by: Brian Wasko

Hanged Versus Hung

Here’s  a grammar issue that people get hung up on. When using the verb hang in the past tense, is it correct to say hung or hanged?

Hang around for the answer.

In every usage but one, the correct past tense for hang is hung.

  • The stockings were hung by the chimney with care.
  • The priceless paintings were painstakingly hung.
  • Various meats hung from the butcher’s ceiling.

The single exception is when you are referring to someone who was executed by hanging. In that case alone it is correct to say hanged.

  • The army hanged six men at noon for desertion.

In both cases the past participle is the same. In other words, you use the same form when using the helping verb have.

  • Those photographs had hung on that wall for decades.
  • Those good-for-nothings have hung around on the corner all summer.
  • The state of Texas has hanged more criminals in the last century than any other state.

I’ve heard this rule stated “things are hung, people are hanged.” But that’s not necessarily true. It’s correct to say, for example that Jesus was hung on a cross, not hanged. Hanged is only the correct verb when speaking of execution with a rope around the neck. Even though crucifixion is also a form of execution, it is not strictly hanging.

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Hanged vs. hung – not the same!

The verb hang can be a bit tricky to use correctly.

What we need to remember is that hang actually has two meanings. And the problem is that each meaning has its own past tense form.

Hanging a picture

  • Let’s begin with the meaning of hang which has hung as its past simple and past participle forms:
    hang, hung, hung.
  • The meaning of this form is “to fasten or fix something at the top, leaving the bottom and other parts free”.
  • Quite a complicated and technical definition, isn’t it? It’s easier to look at some examples, I think:
  • Many of his paintings were hung in the National Gallery.
    the paintings were hanged
  • I hung my jacket up in the hallway.
    I hanged my jacket

Hanging a man

The less pleasant meaning of hang has regular past simple and past participle forms:
hang, hanged, hanged.

It means “to kill someone by dropping them with a rope around their neck”.

  • Many leading Nazis were hanged at Nuremberg after the war.
    they were hung
  • If the police had caught Jack the Ripper, he would surely have been hanged.
    he would have been hung

You probably agree that there’s a big difference between a painting being hung on the wall and someone being hanged! Luckily, we avoid the problem when speaking in the present tense:

The picture hangs in the gallery.In some countries they still hang criminals.

Some interesting related words

If you’ve got a hangover, you’re probably suffering from a bad headache because you drank too much alcohol last night.

A hangman is the person who hangs someone. It’s also the name of the popular word-guessing game played with pencil and paper.

Hanged Versus Hung

Hanged vs. Hung: What’s the Difference?

There is a good amount of confusion surrounding the verb hang and its various tenses. Is hanged or hung correct? Are they interchangeable? If not, what is the difference between the two?

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In this post, I want to go over some basic tenses of the verb hang, illustrate them to you with example sentences, and give you a few tips to remember when to use which one for the future.

After reading this post, you shouldn’t have any trouble picking the correct tense to include in your writing.

When to Use Hang

Hang, of course, is the present tense form of the verb. Hang has a few different uses and meanings.

For example,

  • To fasten from above with no support from below; suspend – Will you hang this picture on the wall?
  • To hold or decline downward; let droop – Don’t hang your head in shame.
  • To pay strict attention – He hangs on my every word.
  • To cling tightly to something – Hang on to the rope.

When to Use Hanged

Hanged Versus HungHanged is the past tense and past participle of hang only when used in the sense of “put to death by hanging.”

For example,

  • The traitor was hanged for treason.
  • The criminal was hanged in the public square for his crimes.

It’s important to remember that hanged has a very specific use. We only use hanged when we are referring to the killing of a human being by suspending the person by the neck. With all other past tenses of hang, you will want to use hung.

Hanged vs. Hung

The word hang is a bit tricky in terms of its different tenses and some people gets confused with whether to use hanged or hung in their writing. Let us figure out how they differ and when to properly use them.

The word hung is the past tense and past participle form of the verb hang which means “to suspend or be suspended from above with the lower part dangling free.”

  • Lit Confederate flags hung in NYC windows mysteriously disappear
    Toronto Sun
  • Now THAT’S raw beef! Slab of meat is still twitching as it’s hung in a shop
    Daily Mail
  • Someone hung a massive ‘refugees welcome’ sign on the Statue of Liberty

It may also be used as an adjective meaning “unable to agree on a verdict,” pertaining to a jury.

  1. Jury hung in attempted murder charges for War Machine; convicted on multiple other charges
  2. Lee’s urgent fix for SF’s 911 crisis remains hung up
    San Francisco Chronicle
  3. Hung jury in alleged rape of flight attendant at a hotel near Detroit Metro Airport

Meanwhile, the term hanged can only be used as a past tense and past participle of the verb hang if it denotes “to kill someone by tying a rope attached from above around the neck and removing the support from beneath; used as a form of capital punishment.”

  • Wife of man who hanged himself in courthouse held on fentanyl charges
    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  • Couple return home to find pet dogs beaten, stabbed and hanged in garden
    Evening Standard
  • Scaramucci: Leakers Would Have Been Hanged 150 Years Ago
    Daily Beast

It is important to remember that the use of hanged is very specific to the killing of a human being by suspending the person by the neck.

For all other objects,  such as ornaments, shelves, and paintings, the word hung should be used.

Although at present, the two words may be used by some interchangeably, writing professionals and usage guides still prefer the traditional usage of the two words.

Keep in mind that people are hanged but objects are hung.

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Hanged and Hung

The distinction between hanged and hung is one of the odder ones in the language. I remember learning in high school that people are hanged, pictures are hung. There was never any explanation of why it was so; it simply was. It was years before I learned the strange and complicated history of these two words.

English has a few pairs of related verbs that are differentiated by their transitivity: lay/lie, rise/raise, and sit/set. Transitive verbs take objects; intransitive ones don’t.

In each of these pairs, the intransitive verb is strong, and the transitive verb is weak. Strong verbs inflect for the preterite (simple past) and past participle forms by means of a vowel change, such as sing–sang–sung.

Weak verbs add the -(e)d suffix (or sometimes just a -t or nothing at all if the word already ends in -t). So lie–lay–lain is a strong verb, and lay–laid–laid is weak.

Note that the subject of one of the intransitive verbs becomes the object when you use its transitive counterpart. The book lay on the floor but I laid the book on the floor.

Historically hang belonged with these pairs, and it ended up in its current state through the accidents of sound change and history.

It was originally two separate verbs (the Oxford English Dictionary actually says it was three—two Old English verbs and one Old Norse verb—but I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole) that came to be pronounced identically in their present-tense forms.

They still retained their own preterite and past participle forms, though, so at one point in Early Modern English hang–hung–hung existed alongside hang–hanged–hanged.

Once the two verbs started to collapse together, the distinction started to become lost too. Just look at how much trouble we have keeping lay and lie separate, and they only overlap in the present lay and the past tense lay. With identical present tenses, hang/hang

Hanged Versus Hung

A couple of months ago I used the word hung wrong in the podcast about the man who invented the guillotine, so today I’ll review the proper use in case I confused people.

The standard quip is that curtains are hung and people are hanged.

It's not quite that cut-and-dried*—some of my reference books say hung isn't wrong, just less customary, when referring to past executions, and the Random House Unabridged Dictionary says that hung is becoming more common—but the majority of my books agree that the standard English past tense of hang is hanged when you are talking about dangling people from a rope, and in other cases, it’s hung.

It seemed curious to me that there would be two past-tense forms of the word hang that differ depending on their meaning, so I did a little research and found out that in Old English there were two different words for hang (hon and hangen), and the entanglement of these words (plus an Old Norse word hengjan) is responsible for there being two past-tense forms of the word hang today (1).


1. Burchfield, R. W., ed. The New Fowler's Modern English Usage. Third edition. New York: Oxford, 1996, p. 349.

* This is an idiom that refers to the practice of cutting wood and letting it dry out thoroughly before using it in a fire, according to the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins. (Web reference)

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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