How to Play Hangman

Two Methods:Playing Basic HangmanVariations on Hangman

Hangman is a quick and easy game for at least two people that requires nothing more than paper, pencil, and the ability to spell. One player, the "the host," makes up a secret word, while the other player tries to guess the word by asking what letters it contains. However, every wrong guess brings them one step closer to losing. Hangman can also be customized to make the game easier, harder, or educational, and there are apps and websites to play online if you'd like.

Method 1
Playing Basic Hangman

  1. Image titled Play Hangman Step 1
    Choose one person to be the "host." This is the person that invents the puzzle for the other person to solve. They will be tasked with choosing a word or phrase that "the players" will have to solve.
    • The host should be able to spell confidently or the game will be impossible to win.
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    If you are the host, choose a secret word. The other players will need to guess your word letter by letter, so choose a word you think will be difficult to guess. Difficult words usually have uncommon letters, like "z," or "j," and only a few vowels.
    • For longer games, you can also choose phrases.
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    Draw a blank line for each letter in the word. For example, if the executioner chooses the word "zipper," she/he would draw six blanks, one for each letter ( _ _ _ _ _ _ ). The host does not tell anyone else the secret word.
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    Start guessing letters if you are the player. Once the word has been chosen and the players know how many letters in the secret word, begin guessing which letters are in the word by asking the host. For example, you might begin by asking, "is there an 'e' in your word?"
    • Generally, start by guessing common letters like vowels, "s," "t," and "n."
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    Fill the letter in the blanks if the players guess correctly. Whenever the players guess a letter that is in the secret word, the host fills it into the blank where it occurs. For example, if the word is "zipper" and the players guess "e," then the host will fill in the 5th blank with an "e:" (_ _ _ _ e _).
    • If the players guess a letter that repeats, fill in both letters. If they guess "p," you would have to fill in both "p"s. ( _ _ p p e _ ).
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    Draw part of the "hangman" when the players guess wrong. Whenever the players guess a letter that is not in the secret word they get a strike that brings them closer to losing. To show this, the host draws a simple stick figure of a man being hung, adding a new part to the drawing with every wrong answer. This is also where you can adjust the difficulty of the game -- the more marks you make, the more wrong guesses the player gets and the easier the game is. The classic order is:
    • First wrong answer: Draw and upside-down "L." This is the post the man hangs from.
    • Second: Draw a small circle for the "head" underneath the horizontal line of the "L."
    • Third: Draw a line down from the bottom of the head for the "body."
    • Fourth: Draw one arm out from the middle of his body for the "arm."
    • Fifth: Draw the other arm.
    • Sixth: Draw one diagonal line from the bottom of the body for the first "leg."
    • Seventh: Draw the other leg.
    • Eighth: Connect the head to the post with a "noose." Once you draw the noose the players have lost the game.
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    The players win when they guess the correct word. If the players get every letter of the word before the host finishes drawing then they win. At any point a player can try to guess the entire word instead of a single letter, but if they guess the wrong word then the host should treat it as if they guessed a wrong letter.
    • To make the game harder, make a rule saying that the players can only guess the secret word once before they lose.
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    Play online or on an app to practice by yourself. Thanks to it's simplicity, online hangman games are everywhere, and easy to find with a quick internet search for "online hangman." Many games use online dictionaries to choose words, allowing your to practice building your vocabulary while you play. You can even play games against opponents from all over the world with some apps.
    • Try out "Hangman" and "Hangman" free in the Google and Apple App stores for online variations on the classic game.
    • Looking for a challenge? Search for "cheater's hangman" or specific hangman lists, like "movie quote hangman."

Method 2
Variations on Hangman

  1. Image titled Play Hangman Step 9
    Change the "hangman" to a snowman for younger children. If you are worried about exposing younger children to images of violence you can draw a snowman instead of a hanging. Start with three circles for the body, then add add eyes, nose, and buttons for each wrong answer. The rest of the rules remain the same.[1]
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    Play "In & Out" Hangman for a more challenging game. This game works best with longer words or phrases. The rules are the same with one crucial exception: every other letter you guess should not be in the secret word. The player needs to alternate guessing letters that are in the word (the "in" round) and letters that are not in the word (the "out" round) until they win or lose.
    • If the player says a letter that is in the secret word the host writes it in regardless of the round the player is in. If they guess a letter that is in the word while on the "out" round, they still get a strike, however.
    • To make this easier, the host can write out every letter of the alphabet and cross them out as they become eliminated.[2]
    • You can play "In and Out" by yourself online.
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    Use vocabulary words to turn "hangman" into a classroom game. Hangman can be a great tool for teachers to get their students engaged in learning new words. To make it truly effective, however, add an additional rule: when the students guess the secret word, they have to know the definition of it to win.
    • List all of the potential vocabulary words to make the game go faster.


  • The host should give a hint or category like animal, vegetable, or movie star to make the game easier.
  • Begin the game by guessing the vowels. ("U" is the least used vowel, so guess it only as a final resort. Often "Y" is used as a vowel as in "psychology.")
  • Firstly, start with the vowels in hangman when you do this it eliminates lots of possible wrong moves.


  • Be careful with graphic language about hangings around young children.

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Categories: Paper Games