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Hanged Versus Hung

Curtains are hung and people are hanged.

By
Mignon Fogarty
Curtains are hung

A couple of months ago I used the word hung wrong in the podcast about the man who invented the guillotine, so today I’ll review the proper use in case I confused people.

The standard quip is that curtains are hung and people are hanged. It's not quite that cut-and-dried*—some of my reference books say hung isn't wrong, just less customary, when referring to past executions, and the Random House Unabridged Dictionary says that hung is becoming more common—but the majority of my books agree that the standard English past tense of hang is hanged when you are talking about dangling people from a rope, and in other cases, it’s hung.

It seemed curious to me that there would be two past-tense forms of the word hang that differ depending on their meaning, so I did a little research and found out that in Old English there were two different words for hang (hon and hangen), and the entanglement of these words (plus an Old Norse word hengjan) is responsible for there being two past-tense forms of the word hang today (1).

References

1. Burchfield, R. W., ed. The New Fowler's Modern English Usage. Third edition. New York: Oxford, 1996, p. 349.

* This is an idiom that refers to the practice of cutting wood and letting it dry out thoroughly before using it in a fire, according to the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins. (Web reference)

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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