Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Hung or hanged?

with 16 comments

A trial at the Old Bailey in London as drawn b...
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This is an interesting little quirk of the English language.

The past tense of ‘hang’ is almost always ‘hung’, and has been for a few hundred years now. For example:

She hung the lights in the hall.

The material hung beautifully.

She hung the wallpaper very quickly.


Before the 16th century, the past tense of ‘hang’ was ‘hanged’ and this is still used when referring to a person who has been hanged. For example:

He was hanged from the neck until dead.

One reason why the past tense ‘hanged’ may still be used for this purpose is because legal language often retains archaic forms, and hanging someone is associated with capital punishment.

See Oxford Dictionaries on this topic

Commonly confused and just plain wrong


16 Responses

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  1. I don’t believe ‘hung’ in reference to execution or lynching to be ‘wrong’. It is clear that ‘hanged’ is by far the most common usage in formal language, but none of the sources I can find describes ‘hung’ as incorrect. THe ‘hung’ version is very common in speech in Britain, and I think that hypercorrection of this usage by those who disapprove of it is unnecessary. If I used that buzz-word, I’d call such intervention ‘inappropriate’, but I don’t, so I shan’t.


    07/03/2010 at 9:55 am

    • Hello, Dai — no, I don’t think it’s a hanging offence either way. And, interestingly, I think it’s also more common to say ‘hung, drawn and quartered’, rather than ‘hanged, drawn and quartered’?


      07/03/2010 at 10:03 am

      • I’m hung if I know.

        Michael Farrell

        07/03/2010 at 5:19 pm

  2. Mike, I’m hanged if I know whether I’m hung if I know exists at all. Sounds nonce to me.

    Debz, On world-wide Google. “Hanged, drawn and quartered” outnumbers “hung, drawn and quartered” by about two to one. On the UK only Google, they are almost equal.


    07/03/2010 at 11:04 pm

    • Thanks for that interesting research, Dai.


      08/03/2010 at 7:50 am

  3. Bryan Garner cites these examples of the distinction that just because someone is suspended doesn’t always mean that “hanged” is the right word. Someone is considered “hanged” only when death is the intended goal. (1) “He complained [to authorities] of being attacked by dogs, shot at, beaten with a rake and tortured while being hanged [read, hung] upside down.” (Denver Post, Jan. 3, 1997) (2) “Partisans had captured and shot Mussolini, and hanged him [read, hung his body] upside down in Milan Plaza.” (Cleve. Plain Dealer, May 8, 1995)

    Just in case this topic wasn’t already gruesome enough….

    Michael Farrell

    08/03/2010 at 2:58 am

    • Thanks, Michael — that’s a very interesting distinction, and one I hadn’t considered.


      08/03/2010 at 7:51 am

  4. I was taught that it was hanged back in grade school. I always had just assumed it was for the sake of differentiating between the act of hanging something and killing a person. Thanks for the blog though, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve second guessed myself about it after getting in an argument with someone!


    08/03/2010 at 3:18 pm

    • Hi, Neil — you’re very welcome here. I’m so glad you took the time to comment because it enabled me to find your blog, which I really like. You’re a very good writer. Your blog made me laugh out loud in places(I love your idea-to-action ratio). But I was also very, very interested in your analysis of the use of ‘gay’ to mean dumb or stupid. I’m going to read it again and keep it for reference because your way of looking at the issue is so thought-provoking. I wanted to subscribe to your blog, but couldn’t see how to? Thanks again.


      08/03/2010 at 3:33 pm

  5. “Ahn had killed the man he blamed for Imperial Japan’s move to annex his homeland [Korea]. Five months later, an unrepentant Ahn was hanged in a prison in Japanese-occupied northeastern China.” (LA Times, March 8, 2010)

    Michael Farrell

    08/03/2010 at 4:30 pm

    • Good example, thanks, Michael.


      08/03/2010 at 4:34 pm

  6. Thanks Deborah! I added a place on the side of my blog where you can subscribe. At the risk of sounding brown-nosey, your compliments really mean a lot, writing is the one thing I’ve been good at academically through my life, and there is a big difference between a compliment from someone who has been writing professionally as long as you, and one from anyone else. Hopefully writing for mine, as well as reading this one, will make me even better.
    The article about the use of the word ‘gay’ I actually originally wrote as an editorial for my college’s newspaper, but I’ve been too timid to actually turn it in, I’ll definitely do that now though. I was afraid that it would just make me come across as some immature guy who just wants to use the word for no good reason. 😛


    09/03/2010 at 5:18 pm

    • You’re welcome, Neil. I hope you continue with your blog. I subscribed to it using the method recommended by timethief on the WP forum. I expect you will get some mixed reaction to your article, but I’m sure you’re prepared for that! You’re always welcome here.

      P.S. I’ve added a comment on your blog in relation to the piece about use of the word ‘gay’.


      09/03/2010 at 5:24 pm

  7. Clearly a misuse: “With the specter of a hung Parliament rising in the run-up to the vote, the government’s Cabinet Office said it would soon publish guidelines for dealing with a post-election landscape in which no party commands an absolute majority in the House of Commons.”

    Michael Farrell

    31/03/2010 at 3:55 pm

    • Yes, you’re right. ‘Specter’ should be spelt ‘spectre’. I believe the spelling you cite is American.


      02/04/2010 at 4:16 pm

  8. Aside from “hung” and “specter,” that quote, from a US news source, was clearly “translated” from a British source. No way we’d phrase it that way. My low-brow comparison is when, say, the Daily Mail “quotes” some drunken Hollywood starlet saying, “Whilst getting ’round to the pub” or “knickers” or something.

    Michael Farrell

    02/04/2010 at 4:34 pm

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