I noticed that while 「…、電話が切れた」 sounds just like a neutral phrase ("... and the call got cut off."), 「…、電話は切れた」 sounds more like you were negatively affected / that the person on the other side intentionally cut off the call.

  1. Are there any other examples where changing が→は causes something similar?
  2. Is there a grammatical explanation for why this is the case?

Example 1

This is the sentence which first made me think this:


池井戸潤『空飛ぶタイヤ(上)』、講談社文庫、p. 353

I felt that は flowed marginally better here -- my initial thought was that it's because it was an adversarial situation, but perhaps it's for another reason.

Example 2

After some Google searching, I found a document which actually includes both phrases, and I think it's interesting:

大分市内在住 82 歳男性宅に、「7 月分の高額療養費の支 給が 35,000 円ある。手続きは今日まで。お客様番号を伝 えるので、保健所に電話するように。お客様番号は 998-573」との電話があった。不審に思い「市役所に出 向けばよいのか?」と聞くと電話は切れた


平成24年10月11日午後、大分市に住む78歳(女 性)の被保険者宅に、支所の職員を名乗る男から電話がか かり「保険料の還付が3万円程度ある。8月に緑色の封筒 で通知を送っているが見たか?」と尋ねられた。また番号 (998745)を告げられ、これをメモに控えようとし た被保険者が何回か聞き返しているうちに電話が切れた

To me, the first passage seems to feel like the call was cut in response to the question, while the second passage is more like the call just cuts at that point in time (as opposed to being initiated by a human in response to something).

  • 1
    It took me a while, but i see your point. It's not clear to me which one sounds more like the other party intentionally cut off the call. The same for ________ 音信が絶えた ______vs______ 音信は絶えた
    – HizHa
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 19:06
  • 直接に関係ないのですが、meta.japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/1318/…。(ここは英語しか掲載してない)
    – virmaior
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 23:53
  • I still can't get your point clearly. Are there some examples? Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 4:08
  • @broccoliforest I added some! Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 5:56
  • 1
    I'd say that は appears if you are conscious what happens to the phone. I'm not sure for the rest.
    – user4092
    Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 9:57

2 Answers 2


The most important difference is the same as the difference between 太郎は笑った and 太郎が笑った. From now, let's assume 太郎 is always in "the universe of discourse" (i.e., everyone in the conversation understands who 太郎 is).

太郎は笑った is typically used in novels, news articles and any other written documents to describe what happened in the scene, more or less in an objective manner. However, a sentence like this is unlikely to appear in conversations.

太郎が笑った is typically said by someone who just saw Taro laugh (e.g, "Look, Taro smiled!"). Even when you say this to Taro's mother holding him, saying 太郎は笑った in this situation is unnatural, probably because it's an "(unexpected) new event". Likewise you may say aloud to yourself "冷蔵庫壊れた", "先生怒った" and so on the moment you realized these events happened.

I'm not sure, but is this explanation on the most-voted question on this site relevant?

neutral description (ga) only works with action verbs, existential verbs, and adjectives/nominal adjectives that represent state change. "Sentences of neutral description present an objectively observable action, existence, or temporary state as a new event."

The same thing can be said for 電話は切れた and 電話が切れた, too. 電話は切れた would be perfectly natural in novels, news articles, personal diaries and such, but I would not use 電話は切れた in speech. When I realize a phone call is unexpectedly interrupted, I would always say 電話が切れた! (or maybe just 切れた), regardless of the reason. Or I may say 切られた instead when I'm sure the person on the other side of the line intentionally hang up (cf. 迷惑の受け身).

I know my answer is imperfect because this does not explain why が is used in the "聞き返しているうちに電話切れた" example. は is probably the more common choice in this sentence, too, but I vaguely feel the use of が makes the sentence a bit "vivid and lively".



「AがBである」の時は、Aに重点がある。 .......... 「AはBである」の時はBに重点がある。 ..........


「わたしが行く」 は、「わたし」に重点があり、「ほかの者ではなく、わたしが行く」 というニュアンス。

「わたしは行く」 は、「行く」に重点があり、「ほかの行為でなく、行くという行為をしている」 というニュアンス。


これを応用すると、 「・・・、電話は切れた」 は「切れた」に重点があり、 「通話途中なのに切れた」 「相手が怒って切った?」 という意外性を示唆してるのかもしれない。

私の感覚では、 「電話が切れた」 (standing by itself) は淡々と状況を記述してるだけの文言。

「・・・、電話は切れた」 という表現は、最近のミステリー小説に頻発する。  余韻を残したつもりのような、含みを持たせたつもりのような、ちょっとクサイ文体なんだが、さすがにベテラン作家が使ってる例では、それほど違和感は感じさせない。

    日本における初期のミステリー小説では、私が好きなのは 江戸川乱歩、夢野久作、松本清張 なんだが、彼らも、こういうクサイ文体を使ってたのだろうか?

My first impression was: [ It's not clear to me which one sounds more like the other party intentionally cut off the call. The same for ____ 音信が絶えた vs. 音信は絶えた ]

Without any further explanation of the context, one (「・・・、電話は切れた」) suggests (or is more likely to suggest) intentional hanging up by the other party, which comes as a mild surprise to the speaker / narrator.

When the reader already knows that the other party is angry or upset, then 「電話が切れた」 is more often used.

Here's an example:

週刊文春 - 第 44 巻、第 30~33 号 - 166 ページ https://books.google.co.jp/books?id=RxcuAAAAMAAJ

2002   --   今回は外務省改革について忌憚のない意見をお聞きしたいと存じます」手紙を読んだ大臣がそれを渡して言った。 ... だからわかるだろう」「自信がありません」私が名前を言わないので、電話のむこうで大臣はいらいらして荒れ狂っていたが、突然電話が切れた。

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