When two words seem to mean the same thing, it’s easy just to pick one or the other. But sometimes, choosing the wrong word can have embarrassing consequences.
One tricky pair of words is hanged and hung. They both sound very similar, right? In this post, we will detail the differences between these two words, so that you won’t get caught in a tight spot using the wrong word.
Hang and Its Past Tense
The verb hang can mean two different things: the first meaning is “to suspend something” or “to be suspended in the air.” The second meaning is “to kill a person by tying a rope around his neck, attaching the rope overhead, and removing any support underneath.”
The funny thing about this verb is that the past tense changes depending on the intended meaning.
When referring to something that is suspended in the air, without any killing involved, we use the past tense hung.
When referring to the act of killing someone by suspending them in the air by rope, we use the past tense hanged.
Also note that these same two words are also the past participles of the word “hang,” also in the same usage.
When to Use Hung
A simple rule of thumb to remember is that the past tense “hung” can always refer to objects, since we don’t kill objects by hanging them.
You can also use them for humans when our intention is to refer to someone being suspended in the air, without the connotation of killing.
- The little boy hung all of the laundry for his mom.
- His wife proudly hung his framed certificate on the living room wall.
- Sammy hung upside down on the monkey bars, laughing.
When to Use “Hanged”
When you want to describe an act of killing or execution, remember to use the word “hanged.” You can also use “hanged” to refer to the act of suicide.
- The gunman was tried and convicted with murder, and hanged in the spring of 1896.
- The newspaper article reported on the eccentric millionaire who hanged himself with no suicide note.
- The mob was frenzied with lynching the alleged thief; they had already hanged him before the sheriff came.
A Special Case Using Hanged and Hung
Because the past tense “hanged” refers to an execution and “hung” refers to being suspended in the air, a common practice in history can use both of these: in centuries past, criminals would be executed by hanging, but afterwards, their bodies would be left hanging for a set period of time, as a warning to other criminals.
In this case, you might say:
- In the 1700s, with London rife with pirates, they hanged Captain Kidd, and then left his body hung over the River Thames for the next three years to deter other pirates from their thievery.
- The king hung the heads of his slain enemies for three days as a trophy declaring his supremacy in the land.
Idioms with “Hang” in Them: Hanged vs. Hung
Additionally, several idioms in the English language that use the word “hang” and form their past tense with “hung,” as in the examples below:
1. To hang out
Definition: to spend time together in a casual way.
Correct: The teenagers hung out at Pete’s Place after school today.
Incorrect: The teenagers hanged out at Pete’s Place after school today.
2. To hang up (the phone)
Definition: to end a phone call by putting the receiver back on its cradle, or in modern mobile phones, to end the call.
Correct: She hung up the phone, a dejected look on her face.
Incorrect: She hanged up the phone, a dejected look on her face.
3. To be hungover
Definition: to feel the aftereffects of consuming too much alcohol the night before.
Correct: He woke up with a headache, obviously hungover from the night before.
Incorrect: He woke up with a headache, obviously hanged over from the night before.
4. To be hung up
Definition: to remain obsessed or preoccupied by something.
Correct: She was still hung up on her last boyfriend when Steve came along.
Incorrect: She was still hanged up on her last boyfriend when Steve came along.
5. To hang one’s head
Definition: to feel embarrassed or ashamed about something.
Correct: The dog hung his head while his owner scolded him.
Incorrect: The dog hanged his head while his owner scolded him.
Hanged or Hung Quiz
Test your understanding of the different uses of hanged vs. hung in this quiz below, also available as a downloadable Hanged or Hung quiz. Circle the correct word in the brackets:
- I can’t believe she [hung / hanged] up on me like that!
- The boy [hung / hanged] his head in shame.
- She told me she [hung / hanged] the clothes out to dry, but I don’t see them anywhere.
- The citizens were all unanimous in their decision and [hung / hanged] the serial killer.
- The new maid [hung / hanged] the curtains like the mistress asked her to.
- The homesteaders typically [hung / hanged] their onions and garlic in bunches.
- It’s sad to hear the many teenagers who’ve [hung / hanged] themselves in the past year.
- He finished his latest painting and [hung / hanged] it up to dry.
- The ancient warriors [hanged / hung] their captives and then [hanged / hung] their heads on poles to display their prize.
- Anna created a great macrame display and [hung / hanged] it on the wall.
- I can’t believe she hung up on me like that!
- The boy hung his head in shame.
- She told me she hung the clothes out to dry, but I don’t see them anywhere.
- The citizens were all unanimous in their decision and hanged the serial killer.
- The new maid hung the curtains like the mistress asked her to.
- The homesteaders typically hung their onions and garlic in bunches.
- It’s sad to hear the many teenagers who’ve hanged themselves in the past year.
- He finished his latest painting and hung it up to dry.
- The ancient warriors hanged their captives and then hung their heads on poles to display their prize.
- Anna created a great macrame display and hung it on the wall.
Choosing Between Hanged vs. Hung
With these basic rules, you can easily choose between hanged and hung, and be sure you won’t make any embarrassing mistakes.
One good clue to help you remember the correct usage is to think of the game “Hangman,” taking note that “hanged” refers to anything involving an execution.
Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!
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