Hanged vs. Hung—Learn the Difference

Even the most hardened grammarians don’t condone capital punishment for grammar offenses, but we do tend to get hung up about hanged. Hanged can only refer to someone’s death by hanging. If you are wondering, “Is it hanged or hung?” establish whether a deadly action has taken place.

It’s one of the few times when grammar becomes a matter of life and death.

The Past Tense of Hang

Hung is the past tense of to hang when it means “to suspend or be suspended.”

Hanged is the past tense of to hang when it means “to kill someone by tying a rope attached from above and removing the support from beneath.”

to hang = to suspend

Present Tense I hang you hang he/she/it hangs we hang you hang they hang
Simple Past Tense I hung you hung he/she/it hung we hung you hung they hung
Present Participle I am hanging you are hanging he/she/it is hanging we are hanging you are hanging they are hanging
Past Participle I/you/we/(s)he/it/they hung

to hang = to kill by hanging

Present Tense I hang you hang he/she/it hangs we hang you hang they hang
Simple Past Tense I hanged you hanged he/she/it hanged we hanged you hanged they hanged
Present Participle I am hanging you are hanging he/she/it is hanging we are hanging you are hanging they are hanging
Past Participle I/you/we/(s)he/it/they hanged

How to Use “Hung”

Clothes can be hung on hangers and pictures can be hung on walls. Some people use the rule of thumb that things are hung and people are hanged, but that doesn’t always work out the way it should. It is possible to suspend people without intending to hurt them—for example, to harness someone to a bungee cord and dangle them off the bridge (which may seem like tempting death, but that’s more of an opinion than a fact).

We hung all of our clothes on hangers when we unpacked our moving boxes.

I ran straight home from school with my Bloggr MVP Award and hung it on the wall.

After the jump, Juan laughed as he hung from the bridge, ready to be hauled back up.

How to Use “Hanged”

If you are deciding between hanged vs. hung and an act of execution is involved, always choose hanged. Hanged can also be used reflexively to refer to suicides (e.g., he hanged himself, they hanged themselves).

H. H. Holmes was hung for murder in 1896.

H. H. Holmes was hanged for murder in 1896.

The terminally ill man hung himself rather than face a torturous demise.

The terminally ill man hanged himself rather than face a torturous demise.

So when you are playing the letter game Hangman, the figure you draw is your hanged man, not your hung man.

Difficult Differences Between “Hang” and “Hung”

Because it was common practice in centuries past not only to execute criminals by hanging but to also display their bodies for a period of time to deter other potential criminals, it is just possible that you will need to elucidate in your writing that a deceased person spent some time suspended post-execution.

Conveniently, history is rife with examples.

Captain Kidd was hanged at Execution Dock, London, in 1701. He was gibbeted and hung over the River Thames for a further three years as a warning to pirates.

Certain phrasal verbs containing hang confuse some writers as well. To hang out, which means “to casually socialize with friends,” should become hung out in the past tense. Hanged out implies something much less casual (and more deadly).

We hanged out at my mother’s house last Friday night.

We hung out at my mother’s house last Friday night.

Similarly, to be overly concerned about something is to get hung up on it, not hanged up.

Sure, I didn’t wash my hands before cooking dinner, but don’t get hanged up on it.

Sure, I didn’t wash my hands before cooking dinner, but don’t get hung up on it.

“Hanged” vs. “Hung”: Summary

Using the correct past tense of to hang is simple once you make the distinction between its use for capital punishment and its more innocuous meanings. All you need to remember is that hanged has to do with a person’s demise, and hung is used for all other definitions of “to hang,” including idiomatic verbal phrases that contain it.

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