Dec 10, 2012

Grammar Hammer: The Stockings Were Hung By the Chimney With Care…

The holiday season is in full swing, and I’m dusting off the Christmas decorations that will adorn my home before the family arrives. As I placed the poinsettias on the mantle above my fireplace, I started thinking about whether or not I wanted to hang stockings. Naturally, that gave me an idea for this week’s column – the proper usage of hanged vs. hung.

Both words, hanged and hung, are past tense versions of the verb “hang.” This is also one of the few examples that I know of where there is more than one version of the past tense of the word and that there are two separate meanings (which stems from the Old English words for hang, hon and hangen).

My grandfather (The Colonel) would say to me, “Granddaughter, pictures are hung and people are hanged,” so that’s how I always remembered the rule. I’ll spare you some of the more crass examples I came across as I double checked my rules on the various grammar sites out there. Instead, I’ll stick with safe, reliable Merriam-Webster:

“For both transitive and intransitive senses 1b the past and past participle hung, as well as hanged, is standard. Hanged is most appropriate for official executions (example: he was to be hanged, cut down whilst still alive … and his bowels torn out — Louis Allen) but hung is also used (example: gave orders that she should be hung — Peter Quennell). Hung is more appropriate for less formal hangings (example: by morning I’ll be hung in effigy — Ronald Reagan).”

Hopefully, dear writers, you don’t have much cause to use “hanged” in your writing, but if you do hang stockings by the chimney, make sure they’re hung with care.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Randy Son of Robert.

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