In History, Words

Is it hung or hanged?

Sometimes the English language goes wildly off the rails, like Boris Johnson trying to explain quantum entanglement to a school of bog snorkelers, and all you can do is stand back and scratch your head. There’s perceived wisdom at play here, which is usually a sign of genuine insanity. The perceived wisdom is that you use hung when referring to objects and hanged when referring to people. ‘The picture was hung.’ ‘The man was hanged…’

Like a horse.

You see the problem? Would you say, ‘He hanged around’ or ‘he hung around?’ Exactly. So there’s the rulebook out of the window. In fact, the simple rule is only to use hanged when referring to a person who has been executed by hanging, and only in the passive voice. ‘Ruth Ellis was the last woman to be hanged in Britain’ but ‘Ruth Ellis hung from the rope.’

Bit macabre for a Friday afternoon, perhaps, but it’s important to get these linguistic anomalies sorted out, whatever the price. And you get a free history lesson thrown in, so what’s not to like?

So everybody’s happy that hanged is the exception and hung is the normal way to use hang in the past tense. It’s one of those ‘rules’ that’s evolved purely through use, not through logic. But wait. We don’t seem to apply that rule to any other -ang verbs.

The door bung? No, the door banged.
The bell clung? No, clearly it clanged.
The gang gung? Not a bit of it, they ganged.

So where has all this hung business come from at all? It’s -ing verbs that go to -ung in the past tense. Cling to clung. Sing to sung. Ring to rung. Fling to flung. Swing to swung. String to strung. Ding to… And as far as I remember, you don’t hing a painting.

So, hung or hanged? Would you like to change your vote?

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