Hanged vs. Hung (Yes, there’s a difference)

I had someone request hanged vs. hung because he was fed up with people using them improperly. It seems a lot of people don’t even realize that hanged is a word and has its own merits. So if you’re writing a paper where you think you are going to need to know the difference between hanged and hung, keep reading.


This seems to be the troublesome word. Most people think it’s simply a past tense form of “hang” and thus use it in every retrospect. That is not the case. Hung is proper when you’re not referring to the act of killing a person via “hanging.” For example, you can say “He hung the painting in the living room.” Notice that does not deal with a person’s death but rather a simple act of hanging.

So what’s “hanged?”

Remember how I said hung didn’t refer to killing someone through a hanging? Guess what this word does! You got it. Hanged is used only as the past tense form for killing someone through hanging. For example, “In the past, it was popular to have people hanged.” You would not use hung in this case. If you see in a newspaper that a journalist uses hung in this case, be sure to write a letter–because it would be wrong!

Good luck!

Posted in Grammar Quick Fix.


  1. But WHY is there a difference? Why is “hanged” used solely for the execution method? Is it truly proper, or have we merely adopted the improper use over time because irregular verbs weren’t as common in the “olden days”?

    • That’s a great question Jennifer. In Old English, there used to be two forms of the word “hang,” hon and hangen (Thanks to Grammar Girl for the specific two words). As English has evolved, we’ve maintained those two different “forms” for the past tense, even though the present tensed has merged into “hang.” Hope that answers your question!

  2. Is there any difference in the use of “hang” or “hung” depending on the usage of “have” or “has?” I remember in elementary school a teacher mentioning the use of “hung” only with the use of a form of “has” or “have” preceding. It doesn’t seem to come up using any search engines leading me to believe the teacher was making it up because she didn’t really know the distinction of when to use “hang” or “hung.”

    • Actually, you can use “has” or “have” with both hanged and hung. Both of these words function as the simple past and the past participle of “hang.”

      For example, “(Insert name of a country) has hanged three people in response to (whatever).” I’m leaving it a little vague to prevent anything inflammatory πŸ˜‰

      You can also use it with “hung.” For example, “She has hung several pictures in her room.”

      If you’re interested in the “down and dirty” of it, these functions as “perfect aspects.” Essentially that means you use a form of “to have” with a past participle verb–since both “hung” and “hanged” work as both the simple past AND the past participle, the same applies here.

      If you want to go absolutely insane and wrack your brain over it, you can find out more about perfect aspects at the wiki page found here. I hope this helped. Thanks for commenting, and good luck!

  3. What if a person is crucified or is hanging, but not from the neck, would they be hung on a cross or hanged on a cross (with out a rope around their neck)?

    • Excellent question! After some research, I have discovered that when you are referring to a crucifixion, you use the word hung, not hanged. While they are both executions, when one is hanged, death occurs extremely shortly after. When one is hung on a crucifix, death is not as immediately imminent. Forgive me for how uncaring this seems, but much like a picture on a wall is hanging for an undefined time, so is one on a crucifix–whereas with a hanging, the victim goes up and comes down shortly after.

      It seems “hanged” is only appropriate when a rope is used.

      Thanks, and good luck!

  4. I am ooberly mad at this i have always known that there was a difference and what it was. even when i was young. but today in history class we talked about it and my teacher said she was hung. i sais it is suppossed to be hung, the class laughed and every body thought i was sooo dumb. so i was the only one out of 30 students and a teacher that knew thiss that just goes to show you teacherss are completely uneducated and how meaningless those stupid classes are if the teacher doesnt even know what shes talking about.

    • Not everyone studies English extensively. It’s unfair to judge all educators based on the experience of one. Are there bad teachers and professors out there? Absolutely. However, judging everyone based on that one experience is wrong. I could judge you and claim that you, too, are uneducated because you use sentence fragments, do not capitalize etc. Would you appreciate that? Probably not. Would you feel that I judged you wrongly? Probably. While I won’t delete your comment, let’s please make sure to remain polite on this site.

  5. The song Why Can’t the English? (from My Fair Lady) contains the line “…..she should be taken out and hung for the cold blooded murder of the English tongue”; I vaguely remember a televised inteview with Alan Lerner in which he acknowledged that he had elected to use hung knowing that it was not correct because it rhymed with tongue; he had hoped that no one would notice; he then related that the first critic he encountered after opening night of My Fair Lady looked up at him and said only something along the line of “the word is hanged”.

  6. Great info! So, what about the words “proven” and “proved?” I’ve started to come across the word “proved” lately in my current events reading, which really bothers me. I didn’t even know “proved” was a legitimate word until I looked it up. Is there a difference?

    • Actually, yes, there is a difference between “proved” and “proven.” Proved is, unquestionably, the simple past tense form of “prove.” However, the mix-up tends to happen when thinking of the past participle. Either word is acceptable in past participle, although preference is determined through American/British English forms.

      For example, “She has proved her worth in the workplace.” Or, “She has proven her worth in the workplace.”

      Other than American English vs. British English, there is another prominent difference between the two–namely, “proven” can be an adjective. This is most commonly used with “is” as the verb: “Her merit is proven through years of dedication.” Note here that “proven” is modifying “merit” and not “is.”

      Hope that helps!

  7. I have tried to teach my children about hang and hung but I am not sure whether hang is only used for a punishment. Would reference to suicide by hanging use past forms of hang or hung?

    • If it involves a person and–most frequently a noose–it is hanged. As such one would say “The student hanged himself” to indicate suicide. Sounds awkward, I know, but correct nonetheless.

  8. At a dinner party last night, I finally learned hung and hanged have different usages, but in the ensuing discussion we were unsure which verb a non-human animal would get. I was rooting for “hanged” for consistency, as in, “He hanged his hamster.” Any ideas?

    • I think this is more of a philosophical debate than you want. πŸ˜› There’s no real rule on it (who the heck hangs animals?!), but I suppose you could look at it this way:

      Is an animal an “object” or closer to “human?” Although it’s living, we would say “She hung the plant.”

  9. Who hangs animals? I don’t know, but your question prompted a quick Internet search, which turned up a surprising number of instances. A few of them were cruelty cases, and there was at least one YouTube video of a bull in India. Crazy world.

    Whatever the case, language does sometimes help sort out philosophical issues. For hanging purposes, I’d guess most people would naturally place animals closer to humans than plants. Animals can be hanged until they are dead; plants are hung and live despite the noose. But please don’t ask me about coral!

    • That’s actually a great distinction–if you were to hang something and it were to perish, we use “hanged.” If it would not, we use “hung.” I think that’s a fair approach to the situation.

    • Hanged should be reserved for an act of hanging in which life can be lost (even if it’s not). A living object would need to be physically hanging, and as a computer is non-living, hung would be the better option. Although, frankly, I wouldn’t use that would to describe a computer at all because I find it to be both a bit vague and awkward sounding.

  10. Many years ago, we were stduying Billy Budd in my high school English Lit class. After we’d all turned in papers, my teacher said, “I need you all to please remember: Billy Budd was HANGED, he was not HUNG. ….Well, actually, he might have been. Melville didn’t say anything about THAT!” and collapsed into her chair in a fit of giggles. I’ve remembered the difference ever since!

  11. pls identify the error here:

    the clothes were neatly hanged on the cloth line.

    is this sentence correct?
    people answered that ‘were neatly hanged’ is the wrong phrase here.
    pls reply

  12. Kelly, you (and others) incorrect.

    Merriam Webster: For both transitive and intransitive senses 1b the past and past participle hung, as well as hanged, is standard. Hanged is most appropriate for official executions but hung is also used . Hung is more appropriate for less formal hangings .

    More: “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)

    • As a colloquialism, sure. In formal writing, never. Furthermore, I’m slightly shocked that Merriam Webster would take such a strong descriptivist approach. Quoting learned people who use hung instead of hanged does not determine whether it is “right” or “wrong.” Surely educated writers everywhere have mixed things such as homonyms–I know I have–and as such, we cannot determine if they were purposefully opting for the word or simply made a mistake (especially when looking at things like letters, which is the example from Austen).

      I am a bit of a prescriptivist. I feel that language will deteriorate without some rules governing it. So yes, with this post, my ideology of “rules” are coming into play; however, that–by no means–makes me “wrong.” I simply am abiding by a rule that you feel is fruitless.

      Furthermore, since many of my readers are students–and since I have been teaching college composition courses–I know that if you mix the two in an essay, it is most likely to be circled with “Wrong word” next to it. While it would be nice to occasionally just write my thoughts on language, I tailor these posts to my primary audience: an audience who needs to understand why it’s a wrong word and what the right word is.

  13. “…should not escape unpunished. I hope he hung himself”–Jane Austen

    “These men were…at last brought to the scaffold and hung”–Percy Shelley

    Good enough for Austen and Shelley, good enough for me!

  14. Kelly,

    Fair enough, but let’s not circumvent the issue here. The fact is that one of the most respected dictionaries explicitly states that hung is, in fact, correct; that it’s not an error. So, either Merriam Webster is “wrong,” or you’re “wrong,” if you’re really going with this prescriptive approach. Personally, I’d side with Merriam Webster and their usage guide, and I think most readers would.

    And it’s not that I think your rule is “fruitless,” it’s more that I don’t think this rule has as much basis in the history and traditions of our language as you suggest it does (kind of like how some commentators object to adverbial good, which started to come under attack in the 19th century classroom, even though it dates to at least the 13th century). In fact, I’ve read that “hanged” was commonly favored by judges in sentencing, and that this is perhaps the main reason it stuck around for formal executions, while hung made inroads everywhere else. Even so though, evidence shows that hung was also commonly used for executions among a critical mass of educated speakers and writers. I’d also suggest that “hung” versus “hanged” is primarily a 20th century grammarian issue, and little more than a revisionist attempt to make a rule for a word with a somewhat amorphous usage history.

    Furrthermore, if “hung” for “hanged” is an example of this deterioration you write of, well, then our language was already fast deteriorating among the educated since at least the late 17th century. Let’s have a look at some examples though:

    “In 1898, the OED noted that writers and speakers in southern England often used hung in this sense.” (The more conservative OED recognized “hung” over a hundred years ago).

    “…to-day I am laid by the heels, and to-morrow shall be hung by the neck”–George Farquhar, The Constant Couple, 1699 (Note, usage in the 17th century).

    “I have not the least objection to a rogue being hung.”–W.M. Thackeray, The Newcomes, 1853

    “…that if he was hung he would plant flowers on his grave.”–James Stephens, The Crock of Gold, 1912

    “The negro murderer was to be hung on a Saturday without pomp–William Faulkner, Sanctuary, 1931 (Faulkner, need I say more?)

    “….soldiers convicted of appalling crimes are being hung and shot.”–Times Literary Supp., 29 Nov. 1941

    “…a 13 year-old evangelist, who hung himself because his mother spanked him for sassing her.”–Flannery O’Connor, letter

    I could go on, which is partially the point, but I think this literary company, which showcases the word’s actual usage, combined with what we know of the word’s history, is strong enough to rebuke the notion that “hung” is incorrect. At the most, it’s a personal preference.

    So yeah, I’d say there is enough evidence hung up around us to stay the word from being hung. πŸ™‚

  15. “Homies” is also in “Merriam Webster” dictionary. Does that mean it is standard written English? Please try to quote more AUTHORITATIVE references when making your arguements, rather than just referring to one, “Merriam Webster” or letters/books that random Authors have written (who, by the way, I doubt ALWAYS use “standard written English”). Also, just because ONE reference (perhaps credible) says its OK , doesn’t necessarily mean it’s OK. As noted above, English is an evolving language, and ,as such, there will always be two sides to the coin. In some cases it may be OK and in some cases it may not be (depending on your audience). Because the OED is considered “the” authoritative source, expect that academics will most likely default to it for final judgement.

    Additionally, if you are going to quote websites – please cite them. (http://grammar.about.com/od/alightersideofwriting/a/hangedgloss.htm)

  16. Hi Charles,

    I don’t care for your tone (there’s really no need to capitalize AUTHORITATIVE), and I don’t buy your argument at all. I think Merriam Webster and its usage guide (which are the two books I quoted from) are authoritative enough. After all, if Merriam Webster’s usage guide is not sufficiently authoritative, then what does that leave, just the OED, as the “final word?” I think that’s an untenable position and decidedly unscholarly. I know the OED is well-regarded by many, but it’s received more than its share of criticism from linguists. You might be interested in checking out a book titled, Empire of Words: The Reign of the OED, by John Willinsky, or in reading some of Oxford linguist Roy Harris’ criticism of the OED.

    As far as comparing “homies” to the question here; well, that’s a ridiculous and almost dishonest way of framing the argument, unless you’re really going to argue that “homies” was ever used in formal writing. The fact is that there is strong evidence to suggest that “hung” has been used for executions for hundreds of years, in formal writing (published novels, news articles, ect.), by the most educated and literate, and that it was never considered an error! And once again, the research I’ve read suggests that the legal sphere favored “hanged,” which is why Merriam Webster argues that hanged is more common for formal executions carried out as part of a sentencing, but this is a different distinction than what the author made on this page.

    Furthermore, you speak of the evolution of language, which is fine, but you mean it in the sense of adding new words or new connotations (er, “homies”), but the point I’m making is that “hung” for an execution is not new at all. It’s standard, and has been standard for hundreds of years, until a few 20th century linguists took a revisionist approach to it.

    Of course, you never really refuted any of these arguments to begin with, which was I disheartened by your post. Part of being a good scholar is doing one’s own research and making a decision based on the facts in front of him. Yes, it’s often a value-based decision, but this is always preferable than blindly deferring to authority (“the” OED). I know that if any of my students use “hung” in a paper, I’m not marking it wrong. On the contrary, they’re and they’re in some of the finest literary company that ever lived.

    P.S. I did not cite from websites, but directly from the books. I guess I could have included the page numbers, but we’re talking about dictionaries here: just look up the word πŸ™‚

  17. You could have said all of that with about half of the verbiage. Wordiness is as sinful as improper work usage (IMHO).

  18. Hmmm… interesting thread. I hope it does not descend into a juvenile flame-war.

    Chris – Thank you for your posts. They are reasoned, articulate and informative.

    Charles – WHAT would YOU consider as an AUTHORITIVE source? (like the caps?) If M-W and all the quotes and authors that Chris has listed are not acceptable to you, then what is? (other than OED) Would you care to actually list some referrences of your own to support your position? (I look forward to your reply, homey)

    Mark. M. – You criticize Chris for saying too much by saying so little? Did you even have a point or are you just passing through? Tourist.

    Kelly – …”Or, β€œproper words in proper places,” as Swift would say!”… That’s it? That’s all you have to say? You are all over this thread, responding to every post as if you were the utmost authority, answering with a strange combination of polite, yet condescending guidance. Yet, when it seems you have met your match (or even have been out-matched) by Chris, you duck and run for cover. Are you not going to respond to his posts?

    “I sentence you to be hung by the neck until you cheer up.” – Monty Python


    • I’m all over the site because I am the creator of the site. I write almost all of the posts, pay for the domain, keep the software updated, block out spam, etc. I’m the only person who is on this site on a regular basis, I’m sure.

      My response–quoting Swift–was in response to Mark’s comment about verbiage. “Proper words in proper places” is Swift’s definition of style; I believe extraneous verbiage (Mark’s point about Chris) defies Swift’s ideology, hence why I posted that comment.

      Also, I feel I should point out that I did respond to Chris. I have nothing to fear, no reason to back down, and I certain do not feel I’ve “met my match.” There are certain people in this world who will not take another person’s thoughts on a subject as an acceptable answer. I, too, can sometimes act in that fashion. We’re just not going to agree, and it’s not worth it to me to have a faux “dialogue” when it’s clear what his stance is, it’s clear what my stance is, and neither of us seem to want to waiver from our positions. To me, that’s totally fine.

      What Chris is suggesting is a descriptivist approach to the English language, which is certainly a valid approach but not the only valid approach out there. This site conforms to a more prescriptivist attitude. Why? As a recent student and now a young faculty member at a diverse college (with a large ESL populous), I know my students would like to know what is “right”–that is, what will prevent them from having red ink splashed all over their papers with a low grade due to errors in word choice and grammar. We can argue theory about language forever, and I would love to do that, but I find this isn’t the place for that type of discussion. This is not like Language Log, a site devoted to linguistic discussions and debates. While I’m not trying to censure or censor anyone, this site has a more definitive purpose and a more definitive audience. Namely students. I made this remark before and Chris failed to acknowledge it–and it was really the main argument in my comment. Students need to conform to Standard Written English to be successful. Whether it is fair, right, or wrong doesn’t matter–it’s just how the world (and education) currently works. Until that changes, I will be assisting my audience–students–by giving them the advice that will help them be successful in the classroom.

  19. Kelly – Yes, I’m aware it’s your site. That doesn’t automatically make you right.

    So, as far as you and Chris are concerned, it’s a stand off? You’ll just agree to disagree? Your considered and educated opinion vs. his considered and educated opinion? That’s fine. The operative word here is *opinion*. What it comes down to is there is no universally accepted concrete rule that ‘hanged’ is the only acceptable way to describe an execution (specifically, a human being being put to death by hanging from the neck by a rope). If it is your opinion that in that context, ‘hanged’ is the only acceptable descriptor, and as an educator you would go so far as to mark your students paper ‘wrong’ (with a red pen, no less) for using the word ‘hung’ instead, then I would have to respectfully disagree with you. It would be misleading and inappropriate for you to penalize a student for using a word that doesn’t suit your *opinion*. A word that another educator in your place could easily find acceptable and let pass as is. Chris has clearly shown how the word ‘hanged’ has come into usage, and equally demonstrated that ‘hung’ is just as acceptable for use in the same circumstances. As clear as you have made your point, you have not supported it as a universally accepted *fact*. (your resume notwithstanding)

    • I didn’t say it made me right–at any point in my response. I used it as an explanation as to why, in your words, I am “all over this thread.” I also did not say that I specifically mark them wrong with a red pen. I said they need to conform to Standard Written English to be successful. If they would like to code mesh and write drafts with “hung” instead of “hanged,” I would more than happily allow them to do so. But I’m not going to expect the world to be so forgiving, to understand things like code meshing, etc. My job in freshman composition is to teach my students how to be successful for the rest of their “academic careers.” How would they react if they run into a professor less forgiving than I am? I have seen professors deduct half a letter grade for each grammatical mistake over an arbitrary number (in my experience, seven). How would that student react when their A paper becomes an A- because of a “word choice” issue? One that I could have taught them? Not well, I imagine. I never said that the word itself is “fact,” but rather the current situation of education. I am a realist. I’m not going to be the one voice that changes language completely. If Esperanto couldn’t do it, I certainly won’t be able to. This is why I use a prescriptivist approach on this site–I find it to be a more accurate representation of what students (and the populous in general) should expect to deal with in their writing.

      Now, in terms of “fact,” the OED–which, I believe I have a right to use as my source–says this (omitting the pronunciation):

      hanged, ppl. a.
      1.1 Suspended, etc.; see the verb. (Now Obs. in the general sense; the form in use being hung.)
      2.2 Put to death by hanging by the neck.

      Notice it says “now obsolete in the general sense.” Yes, inevitably people will use it–including authors. This is why it was argued in a usage dictionary, not a normal dictionary. But generally, people do not use the term in this way. You know, I could state a rather raunchy saying about opinions and everyone having them, but I’m sure you’re familiar with it. Everyone, including dictionaries, will disagree on certain topics. In this instance, I very happily agree to disagree, so long as you understand why I opt to do so.

  20. Here’s one. What about forgived? I watched an episode of Little House On the Prairie once and both Mr. Edwards and Laura used this word instead of forgiven. i.e “Am I forgived?” “You’re forgived.” Is this even a word??? I was always taught that it was “forgiven”. I had never even HEARD “forgived” until that episode and it sort of annoyed me a little bit.

    • I checked with the Oxford English Dictionary just in case, but you’re right–it’s not a word.

      Frequently movies, television shows, even literature, will use “colloquialisms” to make the scene more realistic. Given the rustic nature of Little House on the Prairie, it doesn’t seem abnormal for the writers and actors to use speech patterns of a more rural demographic. Where I grew up, “I seen” is quite common. We know it’s wrong, but if a novel were to be staged there, the author may have his characters say “I seen” in order to create a more realistic effect. Twain is notorious for his use of colloquial language in Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer; both works are great examples of this practice.

      Hope this helps clarify things!

  21. I am perplexed by the argument that there is no need for distinction between hanged and hung. I do understand that common usage and mis-usage of words may alter their meanings over time, but some words help clarity and truth.

    β€œI have not the least objection to a rogue being hung.”–W.M. Thackeray, The Newcomes, 1853 (Thank you, Chris)

    I also would not object to a hung rapist acquitted by a hung jury. Nor would I comment on a temporarily hung jury that ultimately hanged the same hung man.

    I find humor in the story of the depressed plastic surgeon who hung himself.

  22. Kristin,

    Many thanks with the reminder for ‘neither’. It’s one of those things that I ‘know’, but tend not to think about. Another example is my horrible habit of saying ‘centred around’…if it’s centred, it can’t be around!

    Given that I am now residing in the UK, I’m having greater difficulty discussing grammar with such confidence as you do with periods and quotation marks.

    In the US, yes, periods are placed in quotation marks. If I misplaced one somewhere, my apologies. I am well aware of the rules of punctuation in relation to quotations, so it would have been a mistake.

    That said, in the UK, punctuation is almost always outside of quotation marks (and really, they use apostrophes for quotes). As such, trying to bounce back and forth between my PhD writing and this website causes issues in grammar occasionally! πŸ˜›

  23. This is the most verbose and self-important explanation ever!. How about you just say…”Use Hung except in the past tense of a person dying by hanging” and be done with it! Ugh.

    • Because the goal is to not just learn the correct answer, but WHY the answer is correct.

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