1. Education

Hanged and Hung

Commonly Confused Words

By

Hanged and Hung

For centuries, hanged and hung were used interchangeably as the past participle of hang. However, most contemporary usage guides insist that hanged, not hung, should be used when referring to executions: convicted killers are hanged; posters are hung. But see the usage notes below.

Examples:

  • Don't mention a rope in the house of one whose father was hanged.

  • "A room hung with pictures is a room hung with thoughts." (Joshua Reynolds)

  • "The sheriff's deputies, who hanged the horse thief at night, are expected to hang around until they are sober, after which they could well end up with hanged or hung looks on their faces--and hangovers for sure."
    (Robert Oliver Shipman, A Pun My Word: A Humorously Enlightened Path to English Usage. Rowman & Littlefield, 1991)

Usage Notes:

  • "Our evidence shows that hung for hanged is certainly not an error. Educated speakers and writers use it commonly and have for many years. . . . " Hanged is, however, more common than hung in writing. It is especially prevalent when an official execution is being described, but it is used in referring to other types of hanging as well. . . .

    "The distinction between hanged and hung is not an especially useful one (although a few commentators claim otherwise). It is, however, a simple one and easy to remember. Therein lies its popularity. If you make a point of observing the distinction in your writing you will not thereby become a better writer, but you will spare yourself the annoyance of being corrected for having done something that is not wrong."
    (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, 1994)


  • "Hanged, as a past tense and a past participle of hang, is used in the sense of “to put to death by hanging,” as in Frontier courts hanged many a prisoner after a summary trial. A majority of the Usage Panel objects to hung used in this sense. In all other senses of the word, hung is the preferred form as past tense and past participle, as in I hung my child's picture above my desk.
    (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, 2000)

Practice:

(a) "One should forgive one's enemies, but not before they are _____." (Heinrich Heine)

(b) We _____ our swimsuits out to dry.

Answers to Practice Exercises

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Grammar & Composition
  4. Words
  5. Commonly Confused Words
  6. Hanged and Hung - Commonly Confused Words - Glossary of Usage - Hanged versus Hung

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.