26

What's the polite way in the UK to say "I need to urinate" (both for men and for women)? Or maybe there's no problem with that sentence?

N.b. I'm asking about situations in which I know where it's located but I need to inform the one/s that I'm with, about my leaving at this certain moment.

  • 4
    There are a number of answers suggesting the use of the word "bathroom" but this is an americanism. In British English, the use of "toilet" is acceptable, "loo" is more colloquial/informal. Saying you will "be right back" is good for all situations. – Mick Apr 29 at 6:43

16 Answers 16

34

Excuse me for a moment please

This leaves both purpose and destination unstated, but by making it clear that the absence will be very temporary, does not cause anyone to think that it is a total departure. This will usually be understood sufficiently in context.

There are of course, many euphemisms, some gender specific, some not, some considered more polite than others.

  • I need the small room.
  • I need to powder my nose. (a bit old-fashioned.)
  • I need the lav. (out of date?)
  • You don't buy beer, you rent it. (perhaps too graphic, but less so than "piss").
  • I need the John.

and many many others

Devon's answer reminded me of

When Nature is calling, plain speaking is out,
When ladies, God bless 'em, are milling about,
You make water, wee-wee, or empty the glass;
You can powder your nose; "Excuse me" may pass;
Shake the dew off the lily; see a man 'bout a dog;
Or when everyone's soused, it's condensing the fog,
But be pleased to remember if you would know bliss -
That only in Shakespeare do characters piss!

one stanza from this which i first read in The Lure of the Limerick

  • 35
    If someone said "I need to powder my nose" I'm going to assume they're either 300 years old or doing cocaine. – MikeTheLiar Apr 26 at 21:37
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    I think "Excuse me for a moment please" works if you already know where the toilet/bathroom is, but if you don't, and need others to tell you, I don't think they'd reply by telling you where you can find it (for all they know, you might need to make a phone call). In that case it would be better to say something else. – Fabio Turati Apr 26 at 21:38
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    @MikeTheLiar "powder my nose" was quoted as current usage by Judith Martin in her "Miss Manners" column in the 1990s or 2000s, so its not that old. Indeed the phrase only goes back to the common public use of face powder in the 1920s i believe. – David Siegel Apr 26 at 21:40
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    @DavidSiegel it might be my own ahem past experiences coloring my interpretation. – MikeTheLiar Apr 26 at 21:42
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    @MikeTheLiar I don't have "past experiences", but would also probably think they were off to do a line if someone said that to me! As for "Excuse me for a moment please", I think that goes beyond merely polite and would only sound right in a very formal setting. I would never use such a phrase among friends or colleagues for example. – JBentley Apr 26 at 21:58
31

The right way to say this in the UK would be "I need to go to the toilet" or just "I need the toilet".

Contrary to puppetsock, the word "WC" is hardly used these days, and younger people especially would not know what it meant. You might use it to excuse yourself from an audience with the Queen, but for everyone else you should say "toilet".

"Bathroom" would be understood, but you might get some sarcastic comments of "why, do you need a bath?"

  • 7
    Hmm. I think I partly agree, but not completely. (1) I think "I need to go to the toilet" is ok, but it's not as polite as "I need to us the bathroom", (2) I think most people would know what WC means (after all, you see the symbol in a lot of places), but I agree it would sound a bit odd to say "I need to use the WC", (3) I always use "bathroom" and have never in my life been asked if I need a bath. Perhaps that is more of a regional thing (I am from London) – JBentley Apr 26 at 21:15
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    @JBentley You'd just get laughs if you said "I need to use the bathroom" in a public place in Britain. Even if you said it at a home, it would be odd, unless it's for a purpose other than using the toilet. We might say "loo", or perhaps "lavatory" if we were being formal. "WC" or "water closet" you would very occasionally hear, but it sounds extremely old-fashioned no doubt. – Noldorin Apr 27 at 1:56
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    The use of "bathroom" to mean the toilet started as an Americanism. Saying you need the bathroom is perfectly fine in the USA, but vaguely amusing in some parts of Britain. In USA, "toilet" means exclusively the fixture, whereas in UK it means both the fixture and the room. – Dawood ibn Kareem Apr 27 at 6:06
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    @Noldorin As I said, this must be a regional thing, because "bathroom" is completely normal where I'm from in the UK. In my entire life I've never had a laugh or odd look using that word, and lots of people I know also use it. The comment above mine suggests the same. – JBentley Apr 27 at 8:16
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    @Noldorin Odd that we've had such opposite experiences. I stand by not having had a single instance of an odd reaction using the word bathroom, and I know many people who use it too. Also just to note, you're agreeing with DawoodibnKareem, but his comments says "in some parts of Britain". I think we are both right here, and it is is regional (and since we are from the same region, maybe cultural as well). I think the sheer variety of answers and disagreements on this question demonstrates that there is no single right/wrong answer.Note that I'm not disputing the origin of the word as American. – JBentley Apr 27 at 22:59
18

(Excuse me,) I need to use the toilet/bathroom/restroom.

Exactly how that room is named depends on the continent. The commenters are right, toilet is most often used in British English, while Americans prefer restroom or bathroom.

The phrase is not limited to urination:

(Euphemism) to urinate or defecate. May I be excused to use the bathroom? I have to use the toilet.

(source: The Free Dictionary)

but what you're doing there exactly is nobody's business but your own.

  • 9
    As far as I know, asking for a toilet in the US isn't recommended, as it sounds rude to them - granted, not to all, but to some it does. Instead, they say "restroom". In Canada they prefer "washroom". But in any case I'd avoid the word toilet in the US. – Fabio Turati Apr 26 at 21:21
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    It's less commonon in the US but not unrecommended. Anybody need to use the toilet before we go? – Mazura Apr 26 at 21:59
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    I would second @FabioTurati . As an American, asking for the toilet sounds a little gross to me because it conjures images of someone using a toilet. It will be understood and won't cause any real problems but I would recommend avoiding it in the USA. – Aurast Apr 27 at 9:43
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    I was in the UK and asked someone behind a desk at a university where the restroom was and she had no idea what I meant. That led me to assume the word is not used in the UK. – Matt Samuel Apr 27 at 19:57
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    I'm American. Going to have to agree with the other posters who mentioned 'toilet' as being uncommon or slightly rude. In American english, toilet refers to the actual toilet fixture itself instead of to the room... Bathroom / Restroom are the normal ways to say it. Lavatory is most likely to be understood if the person was born in the US. Loo might work, as well - but I'll think you're British. Water closet will almost certainly not be understood. Bonus Points: "Porcelain Throne" is also relatively common as a crude joke. – CobyCode Apr 28 at 1:28
13

I am very surprised that none of the answers or comments so far have mentioned the word "loo", as in "I need the loo"or "Where is the loo?". It is at least as polite as toilet.

In addition, there is a certain snobbery about that word, with many users of BrE considering (quite incorrectly, on linguistic grounds) that "toilet" is a mealy-mouthed, lower-class way of saying "lavatory".

If you wish both to avoid taking a stand one way or the other on the snobbery and to avoid explicitness, you can always say something like "I must disappear for a moment", or "Excuse me for a moment".

  • 4
    I would perhaps add "Could I (just) use your loo?" as a totally acceptable way to ask in somebody's house. I don't think I'd say "I need the loo" in polite company (although it is frequently uttered by small kids). – Andy Apr 26 at 21:46
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    @Andy +1 although I'm not sure if it's relevant. I too, thought that a good answer should be removing the word "need", but if you look at the question, it can be interpreted as applying to the situation where you are expressing a need (e.g. when you are some place that doesn't have a toilet) rather than expressing an intent to actually use one right now. In that case, the word "need" is fine, although "need to use [...]" is probably better than just "need [...]" – JBentley Apr 26 at 21:54
  • @JBentley I'm not convinced that "Could I use your loo" doesn't imply a need. What else would I be using it for :) – Andy Apr 26 at 22:01
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    @Andy Agreed, but my point is that the question could be asking about situations such as you are walking down the street with a friend and want to tell them that you need to use the toilet, so that you can change your plans to incorporate finding one. You wouldn't say "Could I use your loo?" in that context, because they don't have a loo to offer you. In such cases the word "need" is probably the best fit. We can't assume the OP means only situations where he is asking to use a toilet, or telling people he is on his way to a toilet. – JBentley Apr 26 at 22:03
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    I would agree that loo for example "I'm just going to nip to the loo" is the most common way to say this. – Matt Apr 27 at 14:47
12

There is no polite way to bring the image into others' minds of your spraying out waste water from your privy parts. The polite way to excuse yourself is to say some variation on

I need to go.

or

I'll be back in a minute.

If it's a need at that exact moment, then it's pretty obvious in almost all situations what that need is and you don't need to spell it out at all. "Urinate", being latinate, is going to come across as clinical. "Pee" is childish, "tinkle" or "wee" even more so. "Piss" and "slash" can be rudely vulgar or amusingly friendly depending on your company.

If you need to explain yourself, you can say where you're going instead of what you're doing. You can say toilet or any of the other names for the place but it's still usually gender binary: "I need to go to the Men's", "the Gents'", or "the Ladies'" works better than discussing the plumbing.

  • 13
    I disagree. I am from the UK, and if someone said "I need to go" I would assume they are going to <home / a meeting / some other place> and my response would be to ask where and/or if everything is ok (due to the abruptness). – JBentley Apr 26 at 21:11
  • 3
    Which can be accommodated by "for a bit" or "I'll be right back" etc. – lly Apr 26 at 21:17
  • Sorry, but there is formal and informal. I do not associate impoliteness with using the loo/john. Also, who sprays it? Only dogs and cats, really...."have a wee" is used in the UK. – Lambie Apr 27 at 17:46
8

I need to...

  • ...see a man about a dog.
  • ...shake the dew off the lily.
  • ...condense some fog.
  • ...tinkle.
  • ...pee.

These are all colloquial and somewhat humorous ways people often convey this information.

  • 6
    These are all somewhat less than polite, although most are perfectly acceptable (if possibly confusing) in a colloquial context. – Andrew Apr 26 at 21:07
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    In U.S. English, "see a man about a horse" is the common phrase; "see a man about a dog" is the U.K. standard. Obviously the question is about UK English, but I figured I'd mention the discrepancy there. – ShadowRanger Apr 27 at 1:54
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    You missed, 'I need to drop the kids off at the pool' - a bit more graphic perhaps, but humourous – RemarkLima Apr 27 at 12:43
  • "I need to shake the dew off the lily" workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/134234/… – Džuris Apr 27 at 15:23
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    I think you mean informal not impolite. The most colloquial in AmE is often: take a piss (British: have a piss) or take a leak (especially for men in AmE). Some women might say take a piss, too. Tinkle is great and is not used by men. It's totally kosher. In the UK, there is also "have a wee", usually for women, right?. No one has mentioned: go to the loo (UK); go to the john (US) and my favorite: use the head (understood by those in the know, so to speak, about sailing.) – Lambie Apr 27 at 17:44
7

In the US, it is acceptable to say "I need to freshen up" if it is not urgent. This gives the listener the ambiguity that the urinator is just washing their hands and applying make-up, on the listener's behalf.

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    Would it be strange for a man to use “freshen up” (since generally men don’t apply makeup) or is this OK for everyone? – ColleenV Apr 26 at 23:06
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    It would be unusual for a man to say it, but my male coworker would say it all the time ironically. – Mark Lakata Apr 26 at 23:37
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    I think that might be worth adding to your answer - a learner might use it seriously and then be confused when people took it as a joke. – ColleenV Apr 27 at 2:05
6

In the UK we just say... "Just popping to the loo" or "Need the loo, be right back".

Or "Excuse me, I just need to go to the toilet".

But very rarely "Gonna point Percy at the porcelain".

Some people say "Need a wee" or "Need a pee", "Just going for a pee/wee", or "Jimmy riddle" = Piddle.

Don't use "Going for a piss/slash/wizz". It seems vulgar.

  • 2
    When men speak among themselves, pissing etc. is not vulgar. – Lambie Apr 27 at 17:50
5

Personally I say, “Please excuse me, I need to visit the boy’s room”.

Or for women:

“Please excuse me, I need to visit the ladies.”


Please note: The original question was about the need to urinate. I don't think you need to say why you want to go to the boy's room or the ladies.

4

'I need to urinate' sounds odd. You cannot say 'I need to urinate'in a formal situation or in public places. We don't usually say 'I need to urinate'. If we need to use washroom, we ask 'where's the washroom?' or 'could you, please tell me where's the washroom.'And if you are eating together in a table and you need to use the washroom you can say, 'excuse me.' You don't have to mention why exactly you need to use a washroom. I don't think that anyone will ask ' what did you do in the washroom.' You can simply say 'I need to use the washroom, could you please tell me where it is?'

3

May I be excused

is a common and polite way to go out for a toilet.

1

I need to spend a penny

A fun one, but not much used since decimal currency came in, "I need to spend a penny" used to be well understood.

There used to be very few ways to spend such a small sum of money; one of them was the coin-operated doors on public toilets. So, even when the facilities were free, or at home, the phrase had only one meaning without being impolite.

Fun fact : the coin op pay toilet was invented by the Victorian stage magician, John Maskelyne.

  • Good one, I was going to suggest it. A very British expression. – Fattie Apr 29 at 11:16
  • @Fattie To be fair, it is more my Mum's era, and she just turned 88. But I don't know why it's attracting drive-by downvotes. – Brian Drummond Apr 29 at 20:41
  • Downvotes on this site are utterly, utterly bizarre. This is by far the most erudite and interesting answer here. You can completely, totally ignore downvotes on this site. – Fattie Apr 29 at 22:53
1

To add to the suggestions,

"I need to use The Gents" if you are male gets the point across. "The Ladies" sounds a bit more ambiguous for some reason, although "The Ladies' room" would make the same point.

1

In a business setting I'm quite partial to:

Would anybody mind if we took five minutes for a comfort break?

Deferential, inoffensive without being childishly euphemistic, and acknowledges that there are probably others in the room who'd appreciate a trip to the toilet or to grab a drink etc.

0

Imo (as this q is highly subjective), one should feel comfortable w/ being both forthright & polite (& every person I've ever befriended would most likely agree), but obviously it depends on the person w/ whom you're speaking:

  1. If you're anywhere w/ friends, say whatever you want; if you're judged, then find new ones. I usually just don't say anything @ all. If I stand up & walk to the back of the restaurant, it should be pretty obvious what I am doing lol.
  2. If you're somewhere very fancy (like a rewards banquet or first date) w/ strangers, professional colleagues, or a potential partner, just get up & go (as I said before) or, if you're currently (& actively) speaking w/ people, let ONLY them know. Under no circumstances should you ever stand up & announce to everyone lol.

For instances where you feel like you should say something, the following all work:

  1. "I'll be right back".
  2. (If it is not obvious where the bathroom is) "Do you know where the bathroom is?".

But in general, try not to stress too much about things like this; good people will judge you based on your kindness/ambition(s), NOT on your "politeness".

-1

In the UK you probably want to indicate you need the WC. That's "water closet." Depending on the exact cultural group you are dealing with it may be bathroom, washroom, toilet, restroom, or a couple other things. But nearly everybody in the UK will understand WC. Especially if you are in some kind of public place like the subway or a theater or cinema or pub or such places.

It's definitely cultural. I've learned not to try to ask for a "washroom" in the USA, but to be sure to say "bathroom" even when it's a public facility with absolutely no bathtubs.

  • 1
    Most Americans know "washroom" means "restroom" and it's the standard thing in Canada. They will think "WC" is something on TV. – lly Apr 26 at 21:12
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    On the other hand, see the other answers, WC is more common on the Continent than in British English itself and younger Brits might not even understand it. – lly Apr 26 at 21:13
  • 2
    "WC" is not uncommon on signs or maps in the UK (perhaps because it's easy to make out even when very small, unlike trying to represent with an icon); but it is rarely actually said. – Andy Apr 27 at 13:28

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