Hanged vs. hung

Hung is the past tense and past participle of hang in most of that verb’s senses. For instance, yesterday you might have hung a picture on the wall, hung a right turn, and hung your head in sorrow. The exception comes where hang means to put to death by hanging. The past tense and past participle of hang in this sense, and only in this sense, is hanged.

When someone is hung out of malice but with no intent to kill, as described in the example below, hung is the conventional word:

They hung him by chains and tortured him. [Day Press News]



A column of smoke visible from six miles away hung over the scene throughout  the afternoon. [NBC Washington]

Two teenage boys that hung on to tree branches for two hours in the middle of Beaver Creek have been rescued. [My Fox Phoenix]

I hung the decorations in our platoon office for everyone to enjoy. [Galesburg Register-Mail]


The hangman, who has hanged nine people in his 21 years in prison, has requested anonymity. [BBC News]

A man due to be sentenced tomorrow for murdering his brother has been found hanged in his cell. [Mirror]

49 thoughts on “Hanged vs. hung”

    • Compare the two:
      A man was hanged last Sunday at noon. His body then hung on the gallows for the following week.
      The first verb has a short duration for the action, whereas the second is of indeterminate length. This nuance is worth keeping them both around to capture.

      • Honestly, contextual understanding provides a lot of nuance in natural languages. “A man was hung last Sunday at noon. His body then hung on the gallows for the following week” conveys the exact same thing to a competent speaker of the language; the “hungs” as differentiated by context. (We do this with many words all the time: river bank, corporate bank; fruit bat, baseball bat, etc.)

        • Of course everyone will understand what you’re trying to say if you say it like that, and many might not even know it’s wrong, however there are rules to the English language as there are in any language, “hanged” being one of them. Lets not be like the people who use “literally” for everything. ;)

        • If the man was hung by his nipples and lived afterwards that would be
          “a man was hung last Sunday at noon. He hung their for the following week, then got tired and walked away.” You cannot do that with “hung”.

    • Reminds me of the line from “Blazing Saddles”.
      “They said you were hung.”
      “And they were right!”
      Hung may have a whole different meaning. IMHO, that’s why we say a man was hanged. Whether he hung or not is a little personal.

  1. Thank you. My third grade teacher made it her mission to make sure we knew that pictures were hung, while people were hanged. As an adult, I understand the terminology much better.

    • No… you completely missed the point of the article… you use hanged in a passive construction or in the perfect tense, not when related to people or things… the subject / object is completely irrelevant… whatever your teacher taught you is totally wrong and it looks like you didn’t exactly read the article.

      • So you’re saying you would construct a sentence as follows: “The picture was hanged last week.”? That is passive construction, but it is NOT correct. The man was hanged last week. The picture was hung last week.

      • You’ll forgive Love Airlines’ teacher for presenting the concept in a way that third graders would understand rather than in a way that would put them to sleep or feel like morons, as seemingly you would prefer.

      • The subject/object is the only thing that’s relevant: someone being put to death by hanging. Did you actually read the article at all? If you did, you clearly didn’t understand one word of it. It outlines why you’re wrong in fifteen different way, and even gives examples. It’s amazing someone could actually be this dense.

      • You couldn’t have done too well in English. She is correct and you are saying exactly the opposite of what the article is saying. It’s very obvious why you use “hanged” to describe an execution. And on top of that you are trying to say her teacher was totally wrong. LOL

  2. It seems like the game should be called ‘hanged man’ rather than ‘hang man.’ Based on what I learned from this page, when playing the game, a stick-figure’s body parts are hung up on the noose. Until he is fully on the rope and that is when he has been hanged and, the game is over. Is this correct? I feel like using ‘hang’, ‘hung’ and ‘hanged’ are an easy way to get hung up when writing.

  3. I was told it was hanged for a military execution…. The teacher did not say it is correct when referring to nonmilitary executions .. Was the teacher wrong?

  4. There is a lot of talk about “passive” versus active. I don’t think so. I think rather there are two closely related, but homophonic and homographic verbs in play.

    To hang “a thing”, one nominally can do it any number of ways. From a hook, over a line, from a nail, by its tails. It is the act of affixing an object to a wall, wire, cable, hook, catchment … for the purpose of affixing it in a vertical mode. One hangs things to dry ’em, to display ’em, to store ’em, and so on. It is the action of vertically affixing, for the purpose of reaping some benefit from being so hung.

    The other verb is compound in meaning: to very specifically have a noose affixed around one’s neck, and be hung (not hanged!) from a post or gallows, or window ledge or other artifice, specifically to cause the victim of the hanging to “hang until dead”. Very specific, and markedly different than any other use of the word.

    Even if you are a hunter (as I am), where in the more northern provinces (having cool autumns and cold winters), one hangs game to dry-age, there is never a sense that one “hanged a deer, or a boar, or a turkey”. They’re by the universally honored code of hunters, blessedly and safely dead-dead before being hung to develop their funky aromas.

    “Yep, Jed… when we got back, we hung the back quarter of the elk, and the two hams of boar. I don’t think hanging the turkey is a good idea though. Its too durned warm for that.”

    Now… had the turkeys, or chickens, or armadillos been alive when garroted on the hanging-hook … I suppose the conversation could have used “we hanged them turkeys until they were stone cold dead, Jed”. Hanging with the intent to kill, by the neck, with a filament line of some sort.

    The composite idea, as opposed to just the act of stringing up, for the purpose of reaping some benefit of stringing up. “Hanged” doesn’t need to be specific to humans. It will be quite rare though, if some animate non-human subject is in the conversation.


  5. While Love Airlines’ teacher’s “Pictures are hung; people are hanged” is overly simplistic, it’s essentially correct. There are two separate “to hang” verbs: one means ‘to suspend without support from below’ while the other means ‘to kill by hanging’. The latter needn’t refer only to the execution of human beings– a dog may be hanged, for instance, which is where Love Airlines’ teacher didn’t have it quite right.

    In the latter, more fatal definition, the death needn’t, and indeed shouldn’t, result from being suspended by a slip knot around the neck and thus strangled. A professional hangman will tie and place the knot, and calculate the drop, in such a fashion that death is caused by fractured neck vertebrae. Thus the falling through the trap isn’t what kills the victim but rather the sudden cessation of falling, and by the time the victim is hanging there, swinging gently in the breeze, he’s already dead. And yes, he’s hanging there, but not hanging anyone there– that was done by the executioner.

    [And by discussing this on Grammarist, are we all ‘hanging by a (Disqus) thread’???]

    • Does there need to be death in order to use hanged? Or could one have an inexperienced executioner and still have been hanged in a botched execution? In other words is intent enough to use hanged, or does death have to occur?

      • No, and death from hanging needn’t be the aim. In one of the less pleasant forms of execution in late medieval and Renaissance amen gland, at least through the time of Elizabeth I, the penalty for treason was to be “hanged, drawn, and quartered”– that is, you would be hanged until strangled and almost dead, be cut down and brought back to consciousness in order that the hooded executioner could slice open your abdomen and drag out your small intestines to be burned in front of you (drawn), and then either chopped into four quarters or chained to four horses, one limb to each, in order to be pulled apart (quartered). [Nobles were merely beheaded, their heads impaled on spikes in front of the Tower of England. Noblesse oblige.]

        But… even then, they differentiated between hanged (of a person), and hung, of an object.

        • Thank you.

          I just read a news article that used hung to describe a girl that hanged herself. It brought me back to elementary school when a teacher told me hanged for people, hung for objects.

          But everything I read only mentioned death, never attempted execution.

          Again, thank you for that clarification.

          • Ouch. You are right, of course. I really need to shut off the computer after 3:00 a.m., given that my brain has already shut itself off by then. I stand corrected.

            [Okay, I stand, having first sat, to correct it.]

    • @Just Three Words: On the “hanged vs. hung” topic, I just posted on that fine 16th Century form of execution, in which the condemned was sentenced to be “hanged (not hung), drawn and quartered”– usually for treason against the Crown, and a means by which Elizabeth I could, if you’ll excuse me, “butcher the Queen’s English!!!”. Citizens, that is.

      • Overly simplistic– the Angles and Saxons were two mutually exclusive and antagonistic Germanic tribal groups that migrated into Britain at different times, and of course “the Queen’s English” was strongly influenced by Norman French over the past almost-millennium.

        And if you remember that the House of Windsor was ‘imported’ into Britain from Germany, and only changed the family name to Windsor with the advent of WWI. George I (who spoke more German than English) became the first British king of the Hanoverian line in 1714,l; he had been the German Duke of Braunsweig-Lüneberg. So claiming that the “Queen’s English” is at least partly Germanic is accurate, in a linguistically perverse sort of way!

      • English was not “created.” It evolved over centuries. And it continues to do so today.
        Uh oh, did I just introduce the creation vs. evolution debate to this discussion?

      • Oh, and by the way, just as the United States has grown stronger and broader by accepting immigrants over the centuries, so, too has the English language broaden by taking in foreign words.
        If you don’t believe that, you’re bananas — a mammoth schmuck whose forte is sabotaging this coffee klatsch with your poppycock. In short: you are the head honcho of schadenfreude.

    • However, as you can’t use punctuation or the shift key to capitalise letters, I struggle to guess why you are on this site. ;)

  6. Computer engineers have adopted this word to refer to processes that hang — or become unresponsive. I am curious if we should refer in the past tense to these as “hanged” processes or “hung” processes. Etymologically speaking it seems to me that the computer science derivation of the usage comes from the meaning “to put to death by hanging”. Metaphorically speaking, a computer process is ‘put to death,’ so it is more correct to say a “hanged process” than it is to say a “hung process” ?

  7. I don’t care how many people tell me I’m wrong. “He hanged himself” will never sound right to me. “He hung himself” sounds better. But I know I’m wrong so I’ll just shut it….

  8. Hang on! ‘The well hung hungry hungrian hangman hung his head in shame as a man was hanged for hanging around hangars’
    Anyone hung up about that sentance?

  9. One nit to pick: The definition above might be interpreted to mean that in the case of suicide, one would be said to have hung himself.

    The AP Stylebook, however, is much clearer, and more concise:
    “For the past tense, use ‘hanged’ when referring to executions or suicides, ‘hung’ for other actions.”
    Oddly enough, AP does not specifically address the aforementioned usage in Blazing Saddles.


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