Hanged vs. hung?

Only use “hanged” as the past tense of “hang” when discussing an execution or suicide. For all other meanings of “hang,” use “hung” as the past tense form.

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What is the difference between hanged and hung?

The words hanged and hung are past tense forms of the verb hang, yet they are different words with separate meanings. So what makes them different? Mostly death, actually. 

What-to-know for hanged vs. hung:

  • For topics that don’t involve death, use “hung” for the past tense of hang
  • For subjects involving executions or suicides, use “hanged” as the past tense of hang.  
  • If a person accidentally dies by hanging, “hung” is the correct past tense form. 

If you’re eager to learn more about hanged vs. hung, The Word Counter has your back. Just know that this article might contain facts and language that are disturbing to some readers. 

Get the hang of hung

The English language is full of versatile verbs, and we make no exceptions for hang. On the one hand, we use the verb for actions like “hanging up pictures” (‘to attach to a wall’), or “hanging tree ornaments” (‘to suspend objects with the bottom portions dangling free’). 

Other times, the verb hang describes how something is adorned or arranged (like a draping fabric), and it can even imply how we “hang out” (‘to spend time somewhere or with another person’). For these various definitions and more, we only use “hang” for the present tense, “hung” as the past participle, and “hanging” as the present participle. 

The history of hanged vs. hung

The word hang originates from Old English hangian. As explained by The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories, hangian was an intransitive verb of West Germanic languages— similarly to Dutch and German hangen (Chantrell 247–248).  

Hangain was later reiterated by Old Norse hanga, whose northern inflection favored the use of “hung” over “hanged” (247). After the 16th century, “hung” became the preferred past participle, although “hanged” persists as an archaic, specialized verb for executions (248). 

What does hanged mean?

Modern English only uses “hanged” in reference to a hanging (noun), which Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines as “execution by strangling or breaking the neck by a suspended noose.” Thus, The New Oxford American Dictionary defines hanged as the past participle form of hang when it means: 

  1. “To kill someone by tying a rope attached from above around the neck and removing the support from beneath (i.e., capital punishment),” or;
  2. “To be killed in such a way” (“Hang” 788).  

Synonyms of hung

Asphyxiated, assassinated, choked, executed, extinguished, garroted, killed, lynched, martyred, massacred, murdered, prosecuted, snuffed, throttled, strangled, terminated. 

Usage guide: when to use hanged in a sentence?

The verb “hanged” originates from the phrase ‘drawn, hanged, and quartered,’ a which historically meant that one was to be executed by their government for treason. Cassell’s Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins defines the expression through the words of a British judge while sentencing Irish rebels in 1775: 

“You are to be drawn on hurdles to the place of execution, where you are to be hanged by the neck but not until you are head; for, while you are still living, your bodies are to be taken down, your bowels torn out and burned before your faces; your heads then cut off, and your bodies divided each into four quarters, and your heads and quarters to be then at the King’s disposal; and may the Almighty God have mercy on your souls” (Reese 115).

Hangings” of this fashion began as early as 1596 and continued in the United Kingdom until 1867 (115). However, Modern English defines “hanging” for murders that occur out of cruelty and without due process (such as “lynching). 

Hanged vs. hung is also tricky when referencing suicide, where phrases like “hung themselves” occurs. As supported by the Associated Press Stylebook, the correct terms for discussing executions or suicide include: 

  • Hang (present tense)
  • Hanged (past participle, past tense, or passive tense)
  • Hanging (present participle or all continuous tenses)

Sentence examples: 

  • “… 26 sailors were hanged as pirates on a warm summer day before what historians called “a jubilant crowd”…” –– Vanity Fair 
  • “Gotabaya suggested that he could be tried for treason, and told a BBC reporter that he should hang if he was found guilty.” –– The New Yorker
  • “Is there not a valid precedent, here, for hanging the commanding general of the forces in which Calley was serving?” –– The New York Times

Garner’s Modern English Usage also adds the following distinction: “If a person is suspended for amusement or through malice, and death isn’t intended or likely, then hung is the proper word” (Garner 450). 

Sentence examples: 

  • The person accidentally hung themselves.” 
  • “They hung themselves by accident last night.”

FAQ: Is it hanger, hangar, or hangman?

A person that “hangs” a human being is not a “hanger” or a “hangar.” The noun “hangar” is either an aircraft shelter or the experience of being hungry and angry at the same time. A “hanger” is someone or something that hangs inanimate objects (such as a “clothes hanger”). 

Hangman” is the proper term for someone who executes by hanging. One way to remember this noun is to recall the word-game “Hangman” (you know, where players guess missing letters of a partial word?). Hangman is essentially like Wheel of Fortune, except losing contestants leave with a stick drawing of a hanged man (sorry, kids). 

What does hung mean?

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines hung is the past participle of hang when the verb means:

  1. ‘To suspend something from a height where an object’s lower portion is dangling free’ (e.g., “I hung up my jacket), or; ‘attach an object to the wall or adorn a wall with decorations’ (e.g., “We hung up our pictures”). 
  2. ‘To attach and arrange something in a way that allows it to move, drape, or ‘droop freely from the point of attachment’ (e.g., “hung the door from the frame” or “the fabrics hung nicely”). 
  3. ‘To limp, sag, or wilt from dehydration’ (e.g., “the plant’s flowers hung from the stem”). 
  4. ‘To leisurely spend time with another’ (e.g., “we hung out for a while”). 
  5. ‘To be static,’ ‘resting,’ or ‘gliding by the surface’ of something (e.g., “smoke hung in the sky”). 
  6. To be determined by something (e.g., “hung in the balance”).
  7. ‘To be present or imminent in an oppressive or threatening manner’ (e.g., “a sense of dread hung in the air”). 
  8. ‘To prevent a jury from reaching a verdict’ (e.g., “they might try to hang the jury”). 

Synonyms of hang

[1,2]: Dangle, drape, garland, hook, mount, pin, sling, string, suspend, swing, tack.

[3]: Cave in, collapse, droop, flag, loll, sag, sink, slouch, slump, subside, wilt. 

[4]: Affiliate, associate, bond, connect, consort, fraternize, hook up, see, socialize, visit. 

[5]: Bob, dangle, drift, float, glide, hover, ride, sail, suspend, waft. 

[6]: Base, depend, establish, hinge, rest, ride, turn.

[7]: Creep, follow, glare, hound, linger, monitor, observe, rest, stalk, watch.

[8]: Block, delay, filibuster, hinder, impede, obstruct, pause, postpone, stall, stunt. 

Usage guide: when to use hung in a sentence?

Whenever we use the verb “hung,” the past tense form of hang, we are generally describing: 

  1. An object that was attached and suspended from a surface,’ or;
  2. The posture or position of something that drooped, wilted, or rested.’ 

Sentence examples: 

  • “The star’s flowing golden hair hung freely as she posed in a variety of solo shots.” –– Daily Mail
  • “When pictures aren’t hung correctly… there is a risk they will fall and break.” –– The Irish Times
  • “As the sweltering midday heat hung in the air, a buzz of laughter and excitement echoed through the crowded tent.” –– BBC News

Which tense forms use “hung”?

The verb hung is the past and perfect participles of hang, which means it describes most actions of “hang” for the past tense. For example, 

  • Simple past:something hung.
  • Past perfect:something had hung.

Perfect and past participles both describe the past and function as adjectives, except perfect participles follow the general structure of [‘to have’] + “past participle.” This versatility in sentence structure enables us to use “hung” with reference to the present or future. For example, 

  • Future perfect: something will have hung.
  • Present perfect: ‘they have hung’ or ‘something has hung.’ 
  • Future perfect: ‘something will have hung.

Hung” doesn’t describe every past tense form

When we write in the past continuous or past perfect continuous tense, we use “hanging” (the present participle). For example, 

  • Past continuous tense: ‘something was hanging.’ 
  • Past perfect continuous tense: ‘something had been hanging.’ 

Alternative meanings and phrases of hung

It’s easy to confuse the word “hung” because it exists in phrases unrelated to its literal definition. For instance, we use the expression “hung back” or “hung off” to describe how somebody held-back from action or became averse to something. But when “hung” occurs in “hung up,” “hung out,” or “hung on,” it can have several meanings. 

“Hung up”

The literal meaning of “hung up” means ‘to suspend an object to a fixed point.’ For example,  

  • “I hung up your jacket on the hook.” 
  • “They hung up decorations.” 
  • “He hung up the phone on the receiver.” 

The latter example is why we use the phrase “hung up on” when we disconnect a phone call (sometimes without saying goodbye). For example, 

  • “She got angry with me and hung up the phone.” 
  • “I can’t believe she hung up on me!” 

Hung up” also describes someone or something as stalled, stuck, or unable to proceed because of an issue. For example, 

  • “Students are hung up on the fifth question of their assignment.”
  • “They are late because they are hung up in traffic.” 
  • “Management hung up the project for months.” 
  • “He doesn’t want to date because he is hung up on his ex-girlfriend.” 

“Hung out”

If an object “hung out of something,” it likely protruded from a specific area. For example,

  • “The price tag hung out of the blouse sleeve.”
  • “The children hung out of bus windows and waved to passing cars.” 

But if two or more people “hung out,” then we’re describing a casual social event that involves friends, family, or romantic interests. For example,

  • “My friends and I hung out last weekend.” 
  • “We hung out at the library for a few hours.”

“Hung out to dry”

Hung out to dry” literally means ‘air-dried’ as in, “The towels were hung out to dry outside.” However, the phrase can also imply abandonment or intentional miscommunication. For example, 

  • “My date felt like I hung him out to dry because I didn’t cancel our dinner soon enough.” 

“Hung on”

If someone “hung on” to something, it means they grabbed or obtained something without losing possession or contact. For example, 

  • “The fans hung on the rails and cheered.” 
  • “He hung on to his old phone just in case.”
  • “She hung on to the ledge with her fingers.”

The meaning of “hung on” changes when applied to one’s ‘perseverance,’ whether it involves emotional morale, memories, attention, or personal goals. Overall, if someone “hung on,” it means they ‘didn’t give up.’ For example, 

  • “The team hung on for the win.” 
  • “The students hung on to their professor’s every word.”
  • “The patient hung on for another day and pulled through.”
  • “His daughter hung on to her father’s legacy.” 

Test Yourself!

If you think you’ve got the hang of hanged vs. hung, challenge yourself with the following multiple-choice questions. 

  1. True or false: Hanged and hung are past participles of different verbs. 
    a. True
    b. False
  2. True or false: hanged and hung are different verbs. 
    a. True
    b. False
  3. “The Christmas decorations you see were all ___________ by a six-year-old student.
    a. Hang
    b. Hung
    c. Hanged
    d. Hanging
  4. “The pirates were ___________ for their crimes.” 
    a. Hang
    b. Hung
    c. Hanged
    d. Hanging
  5. “The students ___________ out after school to ___________ decorations.” 
    a. Hang, hung
    b. Hanged, hang
    c. Hung, hang
    d. Hanged, hung

Answers

  1. B
  2. A
  3. B
  4. C
  5. C

Sources

  1. Anderson, J.L. “Death of the tiger.The New Yorker, 10 Jan 2011. 
  2. Chantrell, G., Ed. “Hang.” The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories, Oxford University Press, 2020, pp. 247–248. 
  3. Garner, B. “Hanged; hung.” Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 450. 
  4. Halle, L.J. “After Vietnam— Another Witch Hunt?The New York Times, 6 June 1971. 
  5. Hang.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2020. 
  6. “Hang.” The New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 788.
  7. Hang, hanged, hung.” The Associated Press Stylebook, APStylebook, 2020. 
  8. Hanging.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  9. Hangman.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  10. Lance, P. “Homicide at Rough Point.” Vanity Fair, 16 July 2020.
  11. Lynch.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  12. Musau, M.M. “Harambee: The law of generosity that rules Kenya.” BBC News, 4 Oct 2020. 
  13. O’Connor, D. “Hang tight: How to frame and display art properly in your home.” The Irish Times, 11 Sept 2020. 
  14. Reese, N. “Hang, draw, and quarter, to.” Cassell’s Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, 3rd ed., Cassell, 2004, p. 115.