Sentence to be discussed:
My mobile phone has something wrong, so I'll get it fixed.

This is a quiz question from a Chinese textbook (junior high school).

Ask students to rewrite the sentence [1] below.

  • [1] There's something wrong with my mobile phone, so I'll get it fixed.

And it provides a template for them to finish rewriting this sentence (as you can see in [2])

  • [2] My mobile phone has   _____    _____,  so I'll get it fixed.

(Students need to fill in these two blanks, with one word each)

So, the answer given in our textbook is "broken down". But, a couple of students are wondering, why can't we fill in "something wrong" here.

[3] My mobile phone has something wrong, so I'll get it fixed.


  1. Which sentence is idiomatic to you?

  2. Why is the sentence [2] (fill in "broken down") in the present perfect? Is this one natural? Can we write it in simple present tense?

  • 1
    The test is totally wrong! It's as simple as that. There are many ways to rephrase [1], and [2] is only one of them. It's not the best, either, because "broken down" is more serious that "something wrong". (What were the precise instructions in the textbook? Perhaps we were asked to reqrite the sentence using some form of "break down"?)
    – TonyK
    Commented May 30 at 16:58
  • 4
    A really obvious two-word replacement is 'My phone has "stopped working," so I'll get it fixed.
    – user8356
    Commented May 30 at 18:04
  • 1
    Just to get it on the record: by far the most idiomatic and natural way to phrase this is the version they’re asking you to rephrase. “There’s something wrong with my phone” is eminently idiomatic, and it would not surprise me in the slightest if those exact words were spoken hundreds or even thousands of times every day by native speakers. The question is asking you to change an idiomatic sentence into an unidiomatic one. Commented May 30 at 22:59
  • fritz informal, North American (of a machine or device) not working properly. "my computer is on the fritz" – OL (when you don't know what it is, like a cracked screen, then it's on the fritz) Anyway, if there's something wrong with your phone, then you need a new one; nobody fixes nothing anymore. That makes it not idiomatic.
    – Mazura
    Commented May 31 at 2:20

5 Answers 5


We usually speak of a vehicle or some other machine breaking down, not an electronic device like a mobile phone. Google Ngrams doesn't find any results for 'phone has broken down'.

It would be more idiomatic to say "My mobile phone has something wrong with it."

  • 7
    Yes, it's worth pointing out the Chinese textbook is wrong.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 29 at 14:16
  • 1
    Why was this question brought here from ELL? Who did that? Sorry, Kate, there is no other place to comment. I had already upvoted this on ELL.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 29 at 18:08

Even though as Kate points out 'My mobile phone has broken down' is unidiomatic rather than ungrammatical ('My car has broken down' is far more idiomatic [though perhaps sounding a little dated nowadays]), there is another problem with [2] with 'broken down' as an answer. It is not a strict rewrite of [1]. Consider

  • [1'] There's something wrong with my mobile phone which I bought yesterday; it's just not working, so I'm returning it.

It may have been defective when sold, whereas [2] with 'has broken down' must entail that it has worked previously.

Yes, context means that this is probably not the case ... but strict rewrites are strict rewrites.


[3] is a strict rewrite, but adding 'with it' after 'something wrong' is in my opinion needed to make it idiomatic.

  • 3
    I agree that "My mobile phone has broken down" sounds strange, but "My mobile phone has (or is) broken" sound OK. (Disclaimer: I'm a software engineer, and am (unfortunately) familiar with the phrase: "this code is broken". Commented May 29 at 23:59
  • 'My mobile phone is broken' is wider; it could for instance be the screen that's cracked. 'Broken down' doesn't apply then. Commented May 30 at 11:33
  • @SimonCrase "broken" doesn't meet the requirement of using two words to fill in the blanks.
    – JBentley
    Commented May 30 at 11:48
  • ... but that doesn't matter in comments: it's a valid and useful observation. Commented May 30 at 15:27

As others have said, "broken down" is unidiomatic to refer to a phone, and is normally used specifically for vehicles. (It is also used rather more metaphorically for things like negotiations.)

If you wanted a two-word verb to fit in the space, that is idiomatic for electronic devices and has essentially the same meaning, I would use "stopped working".

  • Certainly idiomatiic, but again not a strict equivalent. Commented May 30 at 11:34
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth it's not a strict equivalent for having something wrong with it, but I would say it is a strict equivalent for the unidiomatic given answer. Both "has broken down" and "has stopped working" mean that something has gone wrong that is sufficiently critical to preclude any real usage. Commented May 30 at 13:21
  • Yes; the test is doubtless rigorous when it suits. Commented May 30 at 15:28

Why is the sentence [2] (fill in "broken down") in the present perfect?

I presume the textbook authors were trying to make the question easier to answer. The choice is somewhat arbitrary. (Choices like these can have subtle effects on the meaning of a sentence in context, but in a textbook like this, there isn't any.)

Is this one natural?

The grammar isn't unnatural. However, “broken down” means something different: it suggests that something with moving parts, usually a mechanical contraption used for transportation, has physically degraded enough that it no longer serves its main purpose.

You could also use “broken”, but that's still stronger than “something wrong”: “broken” suggests that the phone can no longer be used, whereas “something wrong” could be as benign as “the colours on the screen are a bit fuzzy”.

I would fill this gap with the single word “malfunctioned”, or the two words “gone wrong”.

I might also say that the phone “is playing up” (if the issue is currently occurring), or “my phone's been playing up” (if the issue is not currently occurring, but that I expect it to reoccur shortly), but Wiktionary says this usage is chiefly British, so it may not be widely understood.

Can we write it in simple present tense?


But, a couple of students are wondering, why can't we fill in "something wrong" here.

If someone “has something wrong”, it means they have a mistaken understanding:

Alice: "I was talking to Carol about my new kite, and she said you might want to fly it with me."
Bob: "No, Carol has that wrong. I like the birds, not the other sort."

The textbook's sentence provides enough context to make it clear this is not what is meant, but it's still confusing to process. We would normally write:

My mobile phone has something wrong with it, so I'll get it fixed.

The transitive and intransitive forms of an expression often have different meanings in English, so it's important not to mix them up.

  • While it might be old-fashioned, 'has something wrong' can be equivalent to 'has something wrong with it'. This google books search turns up several good examples: google.com/…
    – aantia
    Commented May 30 at 13:47
  • NB: I think it sounds old-fashioned because my grandmother is the only person I know who uses the phrase, I haven't done any research on that
    – aantia
    Commented May 30 at 13:49

'has something wrong' sounds weird (not in an idiomatic way) to me. If you'd phrase it like this, it would rather be "My mobile phone has something that's wrong with it", but this sentence is unnecessarily long and devious, and just doesn't sound well.

Better alternatives are:

  • "My phone has a defect"
  • "My phone has an issue"
  • "There is something wrong with my phone"

You could also say "My phone has broken" but as Kate Bunting pointed out, without ~'down' at the end

As for your specific two questions:

  1. None of these sound idiomatic to me
  2. The sentence is in the present perfect in a sentence like "has broken", but not "has something wrong". The reason is 'has' + verb in the past tense ('broken')

present perfect

  • 4
    My mobile phone has something that's wrong with it. I don't think this is any better than the original version.
    – user405662
    Commented May 30 at 11:17
  • @user405662 Agreed, that's what I said. The only difference is that it's a little less ambiguously phrased; I think that "~has something wrong" is contextually incoherent.
    – paddotk
    Commented May 31 at 11:03

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