What do hang up, hang on, and hang out mean?

  • 3
    They all have several different meanings, most of which can be found in any dictionary. I doubt you'll find much commonality apart from the fact that they all start with the same four-letter word. Commented Apr 19, 2011 at 4:38

1 Answer 1


Collins Cobuild English dictionary:

hang up

means the same as hang: "I found his jacket, which was hanging up in the hallway".

if you hang up or hang up the phone, you end a phone call. If you hang up on someone you are speaking to on the phone, you end the phone call suddenly and unexpected.

You can use hang up to indicate that someone stops doing a particular sport or activity that they have regularly done over a long period. For example, when a footballer hangs up his boots, he stops playing football.


If you have a hang-up about something, you have a feeling of fear, anxiety, or embarrassment about it.

hang on

If you ask someone to hang on, you ask them to wait or stop what they are doing or saying for a moment. "Can you hang on for a minute?"

If you hang on, you manage to survive, achieve success, or avoid failure in spite of great difficulties or opposition. "Manchester United hung on to take the cup."

If you hang on to or hang onto something that gives you an advantage, you succeed in keeping it for yourself, and prevent it from being taken away or given to someone else. "The British driver was unable to hang on to his lead. ... The company has been struggling to hang onto its sales force."

If you hang on to or hang onto something, you hold it very tightly, for example to stop it falling or to support yourself. "She was conscious of a second man hanging on to the rail. ... a flight stewardess who helped save the life of a pilot by hanging onto his legs. ... He hangs on thightly, his arms around my neck."

If you hang on to or hang onto something, you keep it for a longer time than you would normally expect. "You could, alternatively, hang onto it in the hope that it will be worth millions in 10 years time. ... In the present climate, owners are hanging on to old ships."

If one thing hangs on another, it depends on it in order to become successful. "Much hangs on the success of the collaboration between the Groups of Seven governments and Brazil."

hang out

If you hang out clothes that you have washed, you hang them on a clothes line to dry.

If you hang out in a particular place or area, you go and stay there for no particular reason, or spend a lot of time there. (mainly American) "I often used to hang out in supermarkets. ... We can just hang out and have a good time."

All of these, like most idioms, are for informal use.

  • You can also encounter a hang-up in something (like a project), which means the project encountered a problem that is stopping progress (in an undesired way). Usually a hang-up indicates a problem that doesn't stop it for long (or is presumed to be quick to fix) (i.e. usually "a hang-up" is used interchangeably with "a minor hang-up" - by habit of usage, it is commonly said in a dismissive or minimizing way, but not always).
    – Jamin Grey
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 3:43

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