I came across a newer Western the other day where someone talked about someone getting hanged. I had to rewind to make sure I heard that right. Yep, the cowpoke said, “hanged.”
The reason I rewound was that “hanged” was the wrong word to use in that instance.
People are hung. Everything else is hanged.
There are two past tense forms of to hang–hanged and hung. The reason is Old English had a couple of different words that merged into the one we have today, which of course, is confusing.
The way I learned to know which word was correct was to think of the ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas story where the narrator says, “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care.” Stockings are things, not people, so they were hung.
If someone committed murder or horse theft in the Old West, they were hanged.
Incorrect: Dale was hung for stealing his neighbor’s horse.
Correct: Dale was hanged for stealing his neighbor’s horse.
I was teaching an ESL* class not too long ago, and we came upon a word that confused people. The word was “gray.”
Some folks, especially those who liked to drink Earl Grey tea, insisted that grey was the correct spelling. And in some countries, it is. In fact, grey is the preferred spelling for our cousins across the pond (and north of the border).
But, as I tactfully told everyone, we’re in America now. In America, the correct spelling is gray. Just look on any Crayola crayon if you don’t believe me.
My high school refresher grammar teacher, Alfrava Latham, had a great trick to help those of us who read a lot of English classics remember which spelling is correct.
Gray has an A in it; America starts with an A.
Grey has an E in it; England starts with an E.
My class understood quickly. I hope you do, too.
*ESL is the acronym for English as a second language.
Nothing takes me out of the flow of a story faster than an ill-constructed sentence. When I was reading the other evening, I came across a sentence with a double that in it. Now, even though double thatsoften are correct, especially when spoken, they are usually very awkward when read. I have had more than one English teacher in my past pound into my head that writing a sentence with a double that construction was just plain lazy writing and a rewrite was in order.
I think the problem is the word that can be so many different parts of speech.
That can be a conjunction: It’s a matter of opinion that pitchers should ice their arms after every baseball game. (Correct.)
That can be an adjective: Bring that pitcher some ice for his arm! (Correct.)
It’s a matter of opinion that that pitcher actually needs to ice his arm after the baseball game. (Correct, but ill-constructed.)
It’s a matter of opinion pitchers need to ice their arms after every baseball game. (Correct, but better.)
Now, that can also be an adverb and a pronoun, so be careful when constructing your sentences. When in doubt, read your sentence aloud. See if you even need that in the sentence.
That as a demonstrative pronoun (not following a noun) — Who gave you that?
That as a relative pronoun (forms the subject, object, or complement or a relative clause) — Baseball’s a game that my mother taught me.
That as an adverb (before an adverb or adjective) — I can’t wait that long.
That as a determiner (followed by a noun) — Give me that bat.