Have you ever debated whether to use hanged vs. hung in a sentence? Were you writing about an execution? The word hanged refers to a person’s death at the end of a rope. That is its sole correct usage.
If no one is dead, then you shouldn’t use hanged.
Hung’s Relationship to Hang
The word hung is the past tense of hang when that verb refers to suspending an object.
Conversely, the word hanged is the past tense of hang then that word indicates taking someone’s life by affixing a rope to the neck and suspending them.”
Using Hung Correctly
A hat can be hung on a hat rack. A sheet can be hung to dry. If you are a hunter, your trophy buck’s head can be hung above the mantle to impress your friends.
If the suspended object is not a person, hung is always the correct word.
However, just because a person is suspended does not mean they are hanged.
At the beginning of the movie Goldeneye, superspy James Bond hung off a bridge from a bungee line to infiltrate an enemy base. In A Fish Called Wanda, the barrister played by John Cleese was hilarious hung out of a window by his ankles by an irate Kevin Kline.
Neither of these involves the subject dying, so hung is the correct verb.
Using Hanged Correctly
On the other hand, the suspected witches at the end of The Crucible are all hanged (spoiler alert for a 70-year-old play).
Hanged is most used about executions and suicides.
Incorrect – Four people were hung for their roles in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Correct – Four people were hanged for their roles in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Incorrect – The fugitive hung himself when it became clear that escape was impossible.
Correct – The fugitive hanged himself when it became clear that escape was impossible.
Here is an excellent way to remember this. The person who oversees a hanging execution is called a hangman, not a hungman.
Other Distinctions Involving Hanged and Hung
You might find yourself needing to use hanged and hung in quick succession when referring to executions from earlier eras. The reason for this is that the bodies of condemned criminals were sometimes suspended from cages as deterrents to the populace.
Here is an example:
After the bandit was hanged, his body might be hung in a gibbet on the road outside town as a macabre example.
There are also uses of hang that do not involve physical suspension. The most common example is hang out, meaning socializing casually with other people. Though this involves other humans, it does not include death in any way. Consequently, the past tense form of hang out is hung out.
Incorrect – I hanged out with my buddies in the park yesterday.
Correct – I hung out with my buddies in the park yesterday.
Another example of using hang figuratively is the expression hang up. This phrase means a lingering concern. To warn someone not to worry unnecessarily, you would tell them not to get hung up.
Incorrect – You shouldn’t get hanged up on the details of the proposal.
Correct – You shouldn’t get hung up on the details of the proposal.
When choosing between hanged vs. hung, you should think first about whether you are discussing capital punishment. If you are not, the correct term is most likely hung.
Indeed, hung universally works for in figurative use and where the object is not human. However, if a person expires at the end of a rope, you should generally go with hanged.
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