I have come across these sentences to mean that the person you are calling is talking to another one. However I am not sure are they both equally common or idiomatic?

"It rings busy."

"It rings engaged"

  • 1
    Bear in mind "an engaged/busy line" was used when landlines (home/work numbers) were more common than they are today. Nowadays a person is said to be not available, (that's in Italy not sure what it says in the UK or US) when they are talking to someone else.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 4, 2023 at 9:44

2 Answers 2


When you make a telephone call, you get either a ring tone or an engaged tone, so "it rings busy" doesn't make sense.

If you make a call and you get an engaged tone, you can say one of the following:

The line was busy
The line was engaged
I got an engaged tone

According to this NGram graph, the first option is the most common. The usage of the first two peaked in 2011 and 2013 respectively: the decline in usage since then is probably due to the rise of instant messaging.

If you change the language to American English, the ratio between busy and engaged is substantial (10:1), and in British English it is significant (2:1).


Neither. "The line is engaged" (British) or "busy" (American).

If it rings, then it is not engaged.

  • 1
    I suppose I could post it as a question but what do people in the UK or the US say when the person they're calling on a mobile is not free? Do the same expressions apply? I only get to hear the Italian operator who tells me in Italian the person is not available at the moment. :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 4, 2023 at 9:47
  • 2
    Normally when this happens you are directed to voicemail, so I'd say "It went straight to voicemail."
    – James K
    Mar 4, 2023 at 9:57
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA There are various possibilities, but the general one is probably "I couldn't get through".
    – Peter
    Mar 4, 2023 at 11:33
  • Thank you, that sounds right to me.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 4, 2023 at 15:13

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