What is the Game of Hangman?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Hangman is a pencil-and-paper word game that can be played by children as soon as they can recognize the letters and spell simple words. The guesser can make reasoned guesses based on word patterns, letter frequency, and knowledge of English orthography, but these are not necessary abilities. The goal of the game is the guess the word or phrase before guesses run out. The game is for two players.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Players should establish before beginning how the diagram is to be drawn. Generally, the gallows is drawn before the game begins, but it can also be drawn as part of the game. The elements that are included in the body also differ, and the more detailed the drawing, the more guesses are allowed. The minimum usually includes head, torso, two arms, and two legs. It is possible to add neck, feet, fingers, and facial elements—eyes, nose, mouth, ears, hair, etc.

Preparations for Hangman
To begin, the person who is It thinks of a word or phrase and either remembers it, or writes it on a secret scrap of paper. Words can be any length, but very long and very short words may yield additional clues simply from their length (i.e., there simply aren’t that many two-letter words).

Next, It draws a diagram of the gallows. At minimum, this consists of an upright line, a crossbeam, and a short line coming down from the end of the crossbeam, where the hung man will be drawn. To one side of the gallows, It draws a horizontal line or dash for each letter in the word, leaving space between words, if using a phrase.

How to Play Hangman
When the preparations are complete, play commences. In each turn, the guesser offers a letter that he or she thinks may be in the word. If the letter is in the word or phrase, It adds the letter into the diagram on all the appropriate lines. If the letter is not in the word or phrase, It writes it under the letter lines, and adds one element, as previously agreed, to the Hangman diagram.

Making the Game of Hangman Easier
If you are playing Hangman with a very young child, you will want to be It, and have the child be the guesser. The game is made easier for players of any age if the alphabet is written below the game area. Choosing familiar words that follow standard patterns of English is another strategy to make the game easier, as is using all capital letters. An inventive parent can keep adding to the drawing so that a child is guaranteed success.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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