Hanged or Hung

Here is one of the many questions I’ve received recently:

I was reading a story in the paper and the writer wrote “He hanged himself.” My coworkers and I thought it should be, “He hung himself.” Are we all wrong or is the journalist?

Here is my answer:

I’m sorry to report that you are wrong, not the journalist. Pictures can be hung, but people are always hanged. It’s an odd quirk of the English language. Here is a usage note on the word “hang” from the American Heritage Dictionary:

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.

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22 Responses to Hanged or Hung

  1. James says:

    I couldn’t help commenting on this one in true word geek fashion. The issue really has to do with changes in the declension of regular and irregular English verbs over time. Old Anglo-Saxon words commonly were strong and therefore would change their past tense forms. (“To run” becoming “ran” is an easy example.) French influence helped bring about the passive ending “-ed” for the past tense. (“To walk” becomes “walked” of course.) Over centuries and millions of speakers, the regular forms begin to take precedence over the irregular. This can be seen in the old fashioned “learnt” vs. our more common “learned.” It’s the same with “burnt/burned” or “dove/dived.” Some forms are in more flux than others. The argument is that in hundreds of years English speakers will say “runned” instead of “ran” no matter how horrendous it sounds to us now.
    What the Usage Panel decides on this business is, I suppose, their purview, but there’s no stopping the changes to a living language that is now being learned by so many second speakers the world over.

  2. Karl says:

    James, thank you so much for your comments. In general, I agree with your point about common usage dictating what is acceptable in the English language (see my entry on the Double Negative). For practical purposes, we should be aware of our audience and adjust our writing or speech accordingly. Still, if we do not know our audience well or if the occasion is somewhat formal, it’s often better to choose grammatical convention over common usage. In those contexts, it’s probably better to appear a little stuffy than to appear uneducated, even if the perception is unfounded.

  3. shaddock says:

    My comment on hanged vs. hung. I was told a long time ago that hung is how well a man is endowed. Hanged is the proper useage when referring to other things. I believe that the use of the word hung has been so over used in the wrong context that it has indeed become the word of choice. So, my question is:
    He hanged up the phone in anger.
    He hung up the phone in anger.
    Which one is correct?

  4. Karl says:

    Good question! The correct form of the verb is “hung.” So, the sentence should be: He hung up the phone in anger.

  5. david says:

    So a man is hanged by the neck, while another is hung from a hook?? (like a picture??) Could it be hanged by versus hung from?

  6. Brian says:

    hanged seems to imply a momentary ( or continual ) action whilst hung implies a continuous action.

  7. Samantha O'Mahony says:

    A person is hanged, everything else is hung, although i prefer hung to hanged unfortunately, although think of myself as educated whichever i choose to say!

  8. melbalgas says:

    When using the English language, we are governed by competencies. One of these is what we call pragmatic competence, which means (that) we must have the awareness of social, cultural and discourse conventions to guide us on how to use it in different context.
    That’s why I agree with Karl’s idea.

  9. melbalgas says:

    One of the comments posted here used the word “useage.” I tried to check on this but usage is the only entry in the dictionaries that I consulted with. Or is there a new rule governing about this. Kindly update me about it. Thanks!

  10. Mike says:

    So what happens if I “hang out” with someone? I know it’s slang, not standard English, but what’s the past tense? For example, is it:
    We hung out today?
    -or, as odd as it sounds-
    We hanged out today?
    I think it’s “hung” but I’m not sure.

  11. Karl says:

    Hi Mike,
    Go with your instinct. The correct form is “hung out.”

  12. George says:

    What about clothes on a hanger: My shirt is hung on a hanger or my shirt is hanged on a hanger?

  13. wee says:

    How about a computer? When a computer stops responding to commands, has it hanged or hung?

  14. Tharwat says:

    People are Hanged, things are Hung.

  15. djSalbro says:

    I’ve heard of the expression, “to hang somebody out to dry“, which mainly means to refuse to help someone who’s going through a difficult time, or even to let someone get into trouble without trying to stop it.
    Although it’s slang, I’m curious to know the grammatically correct past tense of it.
    I feel that the past tense should be, “so-and-so hung me out to dry” instead of “…hanged…”, but as the last post reads, “People are Hanged, things are Hung.” Does that mean that the correct phrase should be,
    So-and-so hanged me out to dry?

  16. Chessie says:

    In this particular case, you are using a figurative rather than literal illustration… look up “idiom”
    Since normally an animal or fish is cured on a line, it would be “hung”
    Hanged is what you do by the neck until dead so when I was a kid I hung my brother on a clothes hook, he wasn’t hanged… thank goodness.

  17. hpp3 says:

    (must… resist… comment… AAAGH)
    Ok, this one came up in conversation today and I don’t think it’s as simple as “things are hung, people are hanged”. That should be a general rule, but even the way “hanged” is used in the sentence is important.
    In most Old-West themed movies, they would pronounce judgement on the horse thief by saying “…you are sentenced to be hung by the neck until dead…”.
    Compare with “We hanged the horse thief yesterday”.
    I believe both are correct, and both refer people.

  18. Redbird says:

    My 13 year-old has using “…I hanged out with my friends…”.
    It makes me cringe every time I hear it. He is a very literate young man, and yet I hear things like this all the time from him. There are no ethnic, cultural, or media influences on him that I can see. Where do you suppose he gets this stuff from?

  19. Larry says:

    This is a pet peeve of mine. Languages are by nature, fluid and subject to evolution. “Hanged” may be technically correct as in a death, but I will never use it in that manner. Words that don’t sound (or look) right will change over time. This is why we don’t speak Elizabethan English. I am sure that most of use would agree that “hung” meets the “looks right and sounds right” criteria better than “Hanged”. Therefore “hung” should be used and never “hanged”.

  20. Jeffrey says:

    I never understood why people will argue over correct usage of a word like “hung” or “hanged.” If I make my point, and you know what I mean, what difference does it make which one I use? I’m not out to make myself feel better than anyone else, and that’s how I feel when people start trying to correct me on usage of a word like that. Personally, if the point is made and understood, I could care less what a group of people I’ve never met think about which word I decided to use.

  21. desqjockey says:

    Its interesting that the only time you see archaic uses like this is when people are paid to police someone else’s grammar. Ive never seen hanged used by anyone other than journalists and novelists. I am certain it is editorial pressure that keeps it alive, and really for no other reason than to assert their relevance.

  22. SoccerRef says:

    Hey Jeffrey,
    Get it right when expressing your righteous indignation! I believe you meant to say…”I could NOT care less…” See, choice of word(s) is important.