I Need To Go To The Toilet - What Do I Say?

I Need To Go To The Toilet - What Do I Say? cover

This can be an embarrassing question to ask even in your native tongue, let alone traveling and speaking a foreign language elsewhere, learn the many ways to ask where you can ‘relieve’ yourself.

As a learner of a foreign language, what do you say if you are in a friend’s house or in public and need to go to the bathroom?

There are both common words and less common words that are used by locals in this situation, as well as slang and substitutes to avoid mentioning it directly. So let’s cringe and get on with it!

I find that the British are very conversational about natural bodily functions, but that even making a burping sound can be very offensive! So, when necessary, it’s always best to be discreet and ask quietly.

In England

Using the word toilet is absolutely fine with the British, but not so much with Americans and Canadians. In my own experience, a Canadian friend of mine has previously told me she didn’t like me using the word toilet and asked me to say washroom instead. Americans prefer to say bathroom. A bathroom could be any room in a house, such as a master bedroom with an attached bathroom.

This goes to show that different countries prefer to use different words and expressions based on their cultural ideas of politeness.

In Malaysia

I was very surprised to find out that Malaysian people are so open about the call of nature, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Isn't that a great attitude?

During Malaysian family occasions, if a child needs to go to the toilet, people will say "Dia mahu buat kueh” (“He wants to make a cake"). I recently heard that children say the same thing in Taiwan! None of this is said quietly or ashamedly but spoken out at full blast, with lots of approval and loud cackling laughter all around. Upon hearing this my face probably turned totally red! Coming from a more conservative British background, I absolutely marvel at their total openness to it all.

The proper word for bathroom or toilet in Malaysia is Tandas; a more informal word is Jamban.

Table of Common Expressions in Different Countries

There are many words that are synonymous with the word ‘bathroom’. These are some common examples:


Common Word

Common Phrases

Common British Expressions (Private or Public)

  • Toilet
    Public Toilet

  • Lavatory

  • Loo

  • WC (Water Closet)  


  • Excuse me, where is the toilet?

  • Excuse me,where can I find the toilet?

  • I need to use the toilet, where is it?

  • Does anyone need to go to the toilet before going out?

Common American Expression & More Polite British Expressions (Private or Public)

  • Bathroom,

  • Washroom


  • Could I please use the bathroom?

Common American Expressions (Public)

  • Restroom (With Several bathrooms)

  • Public restroom

  • Lavatory

  • Urinal (M)

  • Shopping malls have restrooms on each floor.

In a Restaurant, Bar or Resort

  • Ladies / The Ladies

  • Powder Room (OF)

  • Men’s / The Men’s Room Gents / The Gents

  • The Ladies’ room is at the back of the restaurant.

Common Philippino & American Expressions

  • Comfort Station


British Expressions (Informal)

  • Loo

  • WC (Water Closet)

  • John

  • The Gents

  • Potty

  • Privy

  • Thron

  • Bog

  • Lavatory

  • I need to go to the loo.

  • I need to spend a penny.

American Expressions (Informal)

  • John

  • Privy

  • Public restroom

  • Outhouse

  • The farm house comes with an outhouse.

On a plane

  • Lavatory

  • Toilet


In a Camp

  • Latrine

  • Pit latrines  


On a ship

  • The head

  • Heads


To be on the safe side, it would be best to use the word bathroom, restroom, washroom, or toilet.

Expressions used by doctors or nurses

You might, at some point, visit a doctor or go to a hospital; what words will they use when it comes to this topic? Doctors talk about bowel movements or ask questions like “How many motions or bowel movements did you have today?” and “How many times did you empty your bladder?”

Informal or Slang Words

Use these words with caution. Using them may make others think that you are crude, vulgar, or insulting. Some verbs to use are to urinate (pee or piss) or to defecate (crap, poop or shit). Some nouns, meanwhile, are urine and faeces.

What about the word sh*t? Using the word sh*t is definitely offensive in England while in Malaysia it is not. Many Malaysians say it as if they were saying any normal word such as car, sun, or flower.

After all that embarrassing but essential talk, let’s finish off with some humour.

What are euphemisms?

Euphemisms are words used to say something sensitive more discreetly so as not to sound blunt, offensive, or crude or to be just plain humorous. These expressions, most likely, will not be used by tourists but by locals. It is beneficial to be aware of euphemism otherwise you might not know what the locals are hinting about.

Toilet Humour

Here is a list of euphemisms to say “I need to go to the toilet”. Gotta is an abbreviation of I’ve got to.

  • I need to spend a penny.
  • I need to go to the loo.
  • I need to relieve myself.
  • Gotta answer the call of nature.
  • Got to take care of business.
  • Gotta water the flowers.
  • I need to see a man about a horse.
  • Gotta check the plumbing.
  • I need to make a deposit.
  • Gotta go for number one/two.
  • Visiting the Fortress of Solitude.
  • Draining the radiator.
  • Emptying the tank.
  • Going to water my horse.
  • Pass water
  • Need to powder my nose.
  • Refresh my body.
  • Going to sprinkle my tinkle
  • Taking a leak.
  • Baiting the trap.
  • Making/doing/having/taking a doo-doo.
  • Going to have a meeting with the Governor.
  • Letting the dogs out.
  • Showering the room with roses.
  • I’m going to test the plumbing.
  • Taking a Tarzan (crapping in the woods/forest)

For more euphemisms, read more here.

Rooms in theatres, restaurants and other public buildings

Do you use euphemisms in your language when it comes to using the bathroom? What toilet slang expressions have you heard before that have confused you?

To sum it up, use the word bathroom, washroom, restroom or toilet and ask someone quietly: “Excuse me, where is the bathroom?

Hero image by Andrew Neel on Unsplash