Grammar Girl's 101 Misused Words You'll Never Confuse Again

by Mignon Fogarty

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by Mignon Fogarty

Oddly, there are two past-tense forms of the verb hang. Hanged is for people and animals you intend to kill, and hung is for everything else.

Remember to use hanged to talk about killing people by dangling them from a rope by thinking of the Old West. Hangings were common, and “I’ll be hanged” was a common exclamation. Think of a prospector expressing surprise about being framed for a crime by saying, “I’ll be hanged!” He’s using it as an exclamation, and he’s probably literally correct.

I am bewitched with the rogue’s company. If the rascal have not given me medicines to make me love him, I’ll be hanged.
-Falstaff referring to his friend Poins in Shakespeare’s Henry IV

You can remember that hung is for things such as curtains, disco balls, and stockings by thinking of a line from “’Twas The Night Before Christmas”: “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care.”

 The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.
-The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

We have to deal with two forms because there were at least two separate words for hang in Old English. They eventually merged into one, but the separate past tense forms remained. Hung became the word for most uses, but the losing form (hanged) stuck around for executions, probably because it was used in legal language, which is less likely to change than common language.


Reprinted from Grammar Girl's 101 Misused Words You'll Never Confuse Again by Mignon Fogarty with permission of the publisher, St. Martin's Press. Copyright © 2011 by Mignon Fogarty, Inc.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Mignon Fogarty

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