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I Need to Go to the Restroom…Now!

QUESTION:
One of our listeners, Natalia, recently asked what the common and polite way is to say that you have to go to the bathroom.

ANSWER:
In the U.S., the most common terms are bathroom and restroom for the room with the toilet. In most U.S. homes, the room with the toilet is the same room where you’ll find the bathtub/shower and the sink. Even if it’s not, we still use these two terms.

The most common phrases we use are: “I need to go to the bathroom”/”I’m going to the bathroom” and the slightly more polite, “I need to go to the restroom”/”I’m going to the restroom.”

Other polite terms for the bathroom/restroom are the ladies’ room or the men’s room, and some women may use the terms powder room or the little girl’s room. However, “restroom” is fine in nearly all situations, so that’s the term I suggest using. In the U.S., you would very rarely hear anyone say, “I need to go to the toilet,” which is considered impolite and sounds a little strange to a native speaker, and Americans don’t use the terms “loo” and “W.C.” (water closet).

The most polite and formal ways to say you have to go to the restroom, however, does not mention the bathroom or restroom at all. At a formal gathering or at a business meeting, for example, most people would simply say, “If you’ll excuse me…” or “Excuse me” as they get up to go to the restroom.

In very, very informal situations, you may hear someone say, “I need to pee.” To pee is to allow urine (the water waste in your body) to come out. Again, this is very informal and impolite, so I don’t recommend ever saying this. I mention it in case you hear it in movies or on TV shows. Other very informal phrases you may hear are, “I need to go to the john.” The john is the toilet; and “I need to hit the can.” You guessed it–the can is the toilet.

I can’t believe I spent five paragraphs talking about the bathroom, but I hope this is helpful!

~ Lucy

17 Responses to “I Need to Go to the Restroom…Now!”

  1. Warren Ediger Says:

    One possible difference: many use “bathroom” to refer to the room at home and “restroom” to refer to the room in a public place.

  2. Dr. Lucy Tse Says:

    Warren brings up a good point. If I’m talking about my own home (for example, “I need to clean my bathroom.”), I’ll use “bathroom” and never “restroom.” But if I’m a guest in someone’s home and I want to be polite, I often use “restroom”: “May I use your restroom?”

    In public, many people ask: “Could you tell me where the bathroom/restroom is?” In this situation, my own preference is to say “restroom,” but I hear others ask for the “bathroom” quite often.

    So, for me, the safest and most useful term is still “restroom.”

  3. Mohammad Osama, Egypt Says:

    wonderful Jeff. I wonder what to say if you are full of urine or stool and holding your stomach that you can’t wait.In Arabic I can say “I’m stuck”. does this have an expression in English?
    I always ask my self what to say in this sitauation.

  4. Mohammad Osama, Egypt Says:

    I’m So sorry Lucy. I guessed Jeff who wrote this.

  5. Fred Says:

    This is very clear !

    T h a n k y o u v e r y m u c h

  6. orlando nunez Says:

    hey, lucy did not write that. it was jeff !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. forjob Says:

    ESLpod is very good for me. thanks you for your teaching english.

  8. Artem Says:

    are you using word “washroom” or it`s just canaddian thing?
    thnx)

  9. soraia Says:

    Hi there,
    Has it ever happended to you that while you are in the restroom new think comes to your mind?
    if it’s happended,so you can see thats why it calls restroom couse your mind rest there!:)

  10. Roberto Says:

    Quite an unusual topic. Nice idea.

    Paraphrasing John Lennon’s words I would dare to say “Let’s give piss a chance”.
    Joking apart, I am a bit in trouble to pronounce the sound of the words piece, peace and piss. Not that I use the expression “to piss” so often but when I use the other two, I might risk to say something I did not mean to say. Any help?

    Once, at a party, I heard a guy (very likely from UK) saying: “I need to see (or to meet) a man about a dog” referring to his physiolocical need.
    Have you ever heard such an expression? If so, what’s the relation between going to the toilet and seeing a man and a dog?

    Well, I need to get out for a while now … you know … when you got to go, you got to go!!!
    Flushhhhh,
    Roberto (Italy)

  11. Alexander Says:

    Lucy, what about washrooms?

  12. Gulls Says:

    the kitten was peeing on the carpet. (acceptable)
    my boss was peeing on the carpet. (unacceptable)
    Not the words but the act can be acceptable or not.

    To pee or to urinate in the toilet, the bathroom, restroom, etc. the act is the same,
    so what’s the problem ?

    They are your thoughts.

  13. chang,korea Says:

    Your blog gives me all the time good thoughts and imformations about english&american cultures.
    Thank you Dr.Jeff and Dr.Lucy..very helpful and realistic..

    Questions for you:

    I happen to hear american people ( I’m not sure they are american or canadian..maybe british..) say “Excuse me. Nature calls me..” Is this one impolite ?

    Also I happen to have watched american sitcom named ” Two and a halfman ” . A little kid said ” I gotta drain the lizard.” I guess this one is very impolite..

    Thank you again for your blog information. May you be happy all the time!

  14. Asril Wardani Says:

    Yeah..thats a good information for me. In my country (Indonesia), you still find an urine room calls by the people (most of them still find in the rural or urban area of the city) but its rare when you are in public facilities. The Word “Toilet” most popular by our local government to make people understand that its a safe place for those who want to pee. But when you are in the hotel, mall, cinema or convention the word “restroom’ is probably used.

  15. Ari Fernando Ramos Says:

    You’re great Lucy. Very clear and complete advice to ask help about going to the bathroom.

  16. emiliano Says:

    Thank you Lucy, it is very good explained, also it is a polite form of saying you need to go to that place. In terms of familiarity or informal way of saying we have to go to the restroom we use to say sometimes: Sorry, I have to see Mr. Roca, or I have to visit Mr Roca, and that is because the first mark of sanitary equipment to bathrooms here in Spain is “Roca”, so is very easy of understand.
    The polite way of saying it is just the same like yours…..Sorry I have to go to the bathroom or to the toilet, never the restroom because it is of not use here. It should be correct also to say “I have to go to the lavabos or al servicio”, many ways of saying “necesito hacer un pis” or more natural and not so polite “disculpadme necesito mear” but this expresion must be said always by a man and never by a nice woman or girl.
    If I go to USA I’ll say always I need to go to the restroom/bathroom.

  17. Dr. Lucy Tse Says:

    I wish I could answer all of your questions, but let me try to address a few.

    “Washroom” means restroom, but we don’t hear it very often these days. It may be used in other parts of the U.S. or was used in the old days, but its not commonly used here these days.

    “Nature calls” is an euphemism (indirect way of saying) that you need to go to the bathroom/restroom. It’s quite common and it’s not unusual to hear it in daily situations.

    If someone needs to go to the bathroom very much, but there isn’t a bathroom around, he or she might say, “I REALLY need to go!” Everyone will know what he or she means. I can’t think of any other special phrases or expressions we use for this situation.

    I hope that helps.

    - Lucy