Hung up on “hanged”

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GRAMMAR GUY
By Jordan Fischer

 

Question: “How about the proper use of ‘hanged’ versus ‘hung?’ It seems to be the most misused word ever.” (Richard L. Beltzhoover, Carmel)

Answer: How about it, then? I think we should be able to hang this one up rather succinctly.

“Hanged” and “hung” are both past and past participle forms of the verb “to hang,” which, for the good of the order, means “to fasten from above with no support from below” or “to suspend.” A “Hang” is also a UFO-shaped steel drum that was invented in Switzerland (naturally), but that’s not what we’re talking about right now.

Most of the time, and certainly in all of your less macabre occasions, the past tense form of “hang” you want is “hung.” If you nailed a picture to a wall last week, you hung it. If you were sad about your favorite team losing a game, you may have hung your head. I suppose if you’re an eclectic Swiss musician you could have hung your Hang on its rack. At any rate, “hung” should almost always be your first instinct.

When “hanged” is the word you’re looking for, you’re describing the act of executing by suspending by the neck. “Hanged” is the word you want when you’re talking about Brooks’ tragic last scene in “The Shawshank Redemption,” or maybe the protagonist from Ambrose Bierce’s short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” It’s probably not the word you’re looking for when you’re talking about a remodeling job (and if it is, take a step back and a deep breath … you will eventually get that room repainted).

In short, nine times out of 10 you probably want the word “hung.” It’s the word you use when you’re putting up decorations or placing a medal around a champion’s neck. If you’re using “hanged,” someone has bought the farm, so to speak. And that’s that.


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