Hang it Up in English Posted by Gary Locke on Jun 20, 2019 in English Grammar, English Language, English Vocabulary
My wife and I are making a lot of changes at home right now. We’re renovating bathrooms, installing tile and hardwood floors, painting walls. This means that whatever was hanging on the walls has come down. The walls are bare. But, soon, it will be time to put new things up on those walls. Will I hang them, or will they be hung? Will I use a hangar or a hanger? The English language has a hang-up with hanging things.
Hang is a verb meaning to suspend or elevate something without support from below. I will hang my clothes up to dry.
In fact, hang is a verb with an annoying number of meanings and applications. Not as many as run, but quite a few.
It can mean to decorate walls. Let’s hang the curtains.
It can apply to motion. Hang a left at the next street.
It also means to droop. You shouldn’t hang your head in shame.
It is also a verb meaning to kill something. You are sentenced to hang by the neck until dead.
There are more, but it is this last definition which has caused more than a little frustration. You see, while hang has many usages, there are only two past tense forms of the verb hang – hanged and hung. In almost every instance where you would use the past tense of hang, you would say hung.
- I hung up my clothes.
- We hung around together.
- I hung on his every word.
The only time you use the word hanged is when it refers to killing something. I’m serious. That’s it! Yet, for some reason, this grammatical rule is widely ignored. People commonly say, “He hanged a poster on his wall.” Or, “The poor guy hung himself.” Personally, when I hear the word being misused, I feel my blood pressure rise. It should be easy to remember this rule – Curtains are hung, people are hanged.
The present participle and the present progressive of hang is hanging.
- I will be hanging that picture.
- I’m just hanging around today
- The clothes were hanging on the clothesline.
But, we still have a complication due to that pesky other definition of hang. Hanging can also be a noun. There was a hanging at the prison today.
We also have two similar English nouns which are homophones and therefore commonly confused. A hanger is something used to hang things. You can have a picture hanger, a clothes hanger, a coat hanger, or a curtain hanger. Additionally, there is a hangar, which is a building specifically made to store airplanes or other flying vehicles, such as a helicopter or a glider.
Finally, there’s the hang-up and a hang up. A hang-up is an informal noun which means a psychological problem, such as an inhibition or preoccupation about something. To hang up, no hyphen, is a verb meaning to end a telephone call or message.
The use of hanging as a form of capital punishment no longer exists as an option anywhere in the United States or, indeed, anywhere in the English-speaking world. The last state to allow hanging, New Hampshire, abolished the death penalty earlier this month. Does this mean that the misuse of the word will go away? Don’t count on it. The confusion is so common that some dictionaries actually concede that hung and hanged may as well be interchangeable. But don’t do it around me. It’s one of my hang-ups.
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