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What is the difference between hängen and aufhängen? don't they both mean to hang? when should one be used and not the other?

  • There are many more, e.g. abhängen, anhängen, behängen, erhängen, verhängen etc. They all mean to hang in their core but in different contexts and at different positions of the hanger. – Janka Mar 2 at 10:26
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The Form with auf- is transitive, the other is not (usually)

Der Mantel hängt am Haken

vs.

Ich habe den Mantel am Haken aufgehängt.

Note also that the first form describes the (possibly long-term) state of hanging whereas the second form denotes the (typically short) act of achieving that state.


Then again, there is the transitive jemanden hängen meaning to execute a person by hanging. Strictly speaking (or is that already obsolete?) one should speak of jemanden henken instead (therefore also the profession of Henker = executioner); also, one often uses erhängen for this (in particular when the hanging was not by a sentence, e.g., a suicide "Er hat sich auf dem Dachboden erhängt").

  • henken is considered "veraltend" by most dictionaries. – tofro Mar 2 at 10:57
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By way of continuation of Hagen's answer:

It pretty much depends on context.

For example in the world of arts, people who prepare an exhibition usually say:

Wir müssen die Bilder so und so hängen.

Die Hängung der Bilder ist irgendwie komisch.

Habt ihr die Bilder schon gehängt?

They do not want to kill them. It is just common practice in that socio-situative context to speak of Bilder hängen, rather than Bilder aufhängen (which then is considered a more amateurish way of expressing it).

Whereas speaking of laundry, it is always

Wäsche aufhängen

Hast du die Wäsche schon aufgehängt?

never Wäsche hängen.

Mix these things up and you will harvest amusement or bewildering. - But no worry, you will anyway be understood.

Bottom line: you need to know the various real-life situations and the typical forms of expression associated to them.

The best thing you can do is: keep your ears open for such nuances when speaking with native speakers. Or if you want to use a more scholarly approach: Get yourself a good dictionary (single-language) where examples for typical use of words are given. Duden Universalwörterbuch is one of them (that's the big one with about 2000 pages, not the smaller one used for checking spelling). Also available as pdf, if you need to be mobile.

  • "Habt ihr die Bilder schon gehängt" und "Hängung der Bilder" sind schon ziemlich seeeeehr grenzwertig. – tofro Mar 2 at 10:55
  • @tofro Yes, in everyday usage they are rare. In a professional context they are standard, I would say. – Christian Geiselmann Mar 2 at 12:46
  • Professional in the sense of "linguistically professional" or "painting-hanger professional"? I guess there is a difference. – tofro Mar 2 at 13:54
  • @tofro "Professional" in the sense of exhibition makers (artists and museum curators). - Speaking of "professional in terms of linguist" I think that this would be a cat that bites its own tail: a professional linguist would probably not rule some expression being right or wrong, rather observe he use of language by its users; which may include members of certain sub-groups of the population, e.g. artists and museum curators... A linguist who judges on right and wrong of use of language would pobably rather be called a school teacher. – Christian Geiselmann Mar 3 at 18:19
  • @tofro PS. I am happy to accept information that proves me wrong. I contributed this not as a linguist school teacher (setting rules) but as a linguist researcher (observing behaviour of users of language). My observations may be wrong, biased, or based on insufficient data. – Christian Geiselmann Mar 3 at 18:22

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