A hung parliament.
And so your proofreader’s mind turns to hung and hanged, and how to avoid this linguistic noose.
In almost all situations, the past tense of hang is hung.
. She hung a poster of Churchill on her wall.
. He hung out with his friends on election night.
. We hung our heads in sorrow.
Hanged is reserved for people who have been condemned to death or who are already dead.
. She was sentenced to be hanged from the neck until dead.
If, however, there is no intention to kill, we use hung.
. They hung him by chains.
If we are referring to an inanimate object, the correct word is hung.
. He hung an effigy of the condemned man.
How did this distinction come about? There were two verbs in Old English for hang: hangian and hon. Add to the mix the Old Norse word hengjan and you can see why we have two past-tense forms for the same word.
Hanged and hung were used interchangeably for centuries, with hung gradually taking over. It’s thought that the tendency of old forms to remain in the legal language of the courts has kept the form hanged alive, as it were.
By using these two words correctly, you will avoid the wrath of the pedants. But don’t get too hung up about it.