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.

hangman speakspeak-3If you found this post interesting, please share it with friends and colleagues. Thanks!

Stuart is an English teacher and runs the Speakspeak website. He currently lives in Prague and has been teaching for over 20 years. Follow Stuart and contact him by subscribing to his monthly newsletter.

1 Comment

  1. luis Sardiña - November 25, 2014, 10:32 am Reply

    Good article!

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