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In every country when speaking English, the room with a bath, bathtub, or shower is called a "bathroom". However, some people in Australia call this a "toilet", which is the standard term to describe a public room with just a toilet and sink in many countries when speaking English, though bathroom is understood too as sometimes in Australia, I hear people call this a bathroom too, though not as much as toilet. In small occassions, toilet is sometimes used in USA to describe the public toilet rooms too, but most will choose to call it a restroom, which I see written in shopping centres in Australia, but to be honest, when I hear people say "I need to go to the toilet", "I need to use the toilet", or "I need the toilet", it is hard to tell if they are referring to the room or the appliance.

From my experience, in Spanish-speaking countries, the term is "bano", which means "bathroom", and it is used for both rooms with a bath and with just a toilet and sink.

Would you say it is right to call a room with a bath or shower a "toilet"?

Also, since when did toilet become the term for this? Why not call it "sink" instead of the most disgusting appliance in a bathroom?

Lavatory remains my favorite word, and this word is used commonly in airlines from USA.

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    Completely off-topic, but "lavatory" was always one of my favorites as well. When I was a kid, I thought a "lavatory" was a room with lava in it. That was from my "dinosaurs and volcanos" phase. Imagine my disappointment upon learning a lavatory is just a room with a toilet in it. No lava. 😞 Commented Jun 21 at 12:56
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    One more red-herring observation: "toilet" might seem like the disgustingly direct term that other terms are euphemisms for. But the word itself came from French toilette, referring to a cloth and indirectly to the process of dressing and grooming. Commented Jun 21 at 15:32
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    I've pondered the fact that many euphemisms replace a direct or lowbrow word with an indirect or elevated one ("relieve oneself"), while many terms replace the direct term with something less direct to be offensive ("take a dump"), but that there is no "original or direct word" for the actual porcelain fixture that isn't either a euphemism (toilet, commode) or shock-value (crapper). Commented Jun 21 at 15:33
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    @GregBurghardt, The original meaning of "lavatory" is, a station for washing your hands. Plumbers and "kitchen and bath" renovators still use it in that way. Commented Jun 21 at 16:34
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    @Lambie This must be regional. While "restroom" wouldn't be the first word I'd reach for to describe the bathroom in someone's home, I wouldn't think twice about it if someone else used it. They have different connotations to me, but not nearly strong enough that I'd call it "ignorant" to use one in place of the other Commented Jun 22 at 1:36

9 Answers 9

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Like many English terms, there are many right answers. Which term is commonly used depends on region, culture, and personal preference.

The following words are all synonymous for a room that has at least one toilet and sink, and that may or may not have a shower or bathtub as well:

  • Bathroom
  • Washroom
  • Restroom
  • Toilet
  • Lavatory (although this is really only used on airlines or in very formal contexts)
  • Ladies' Room/Men's Room (really only used when referring to a bathroom in a public/semi-public space such as a restaurant or shopping center. Not used to refer to a bathroom in a home.)

These words are interchangeable, and you'll hear a variety of them all over English-speaking regions. There is no functional difference between most of them, regardless of what specific equipment the room has in it. Notably, public bathrooms almost never have baths in them.

One note about toilet - the word comes from French where it originally meant small cloth. This became a reference for a room where one dressed, which became a room where one cleaned oneself. When indoor plumbing was invented, and chamber pots were replaced with flush toilets, the word was used as a euphemism, since it was just the name of the room they were put in. Calling a room a toilet isn't naming it after the most disgusting item in the room, it's the other way around!

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    @Megas: I think the point is that the appliance is named after the room, rather than the room being named after the appliance...
    – psmears
    Commented Jun 21 at 13:57
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    The word "toilet" is not interchangeable with "restroom" etc. in the U.S. I've been part of linguistic clashes in which an Australian said "She's in the toilet" and the American laughed or looked very confused. Americans also find signs like "No smoking in the toilet" funny, because toilet doesn't refer to the room in American English.
    – LarsH
    Commented Jun 21 at 19:19
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    @LarsH That's very interesting. I wonder if there is a regional difference within the US or perhaps a generational/cultural difference? I live in the Northeast US, and while "bathroom" is definitely the most common phrase, I hear "toilet" used to refer to the room not rarely. Now that I think of it, that is mostly from young people though (millennials and younger). Maybe it's due to tv/movies? Commented Jun 22 at 0:34
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    @Larsh If you ever went to dfw airport in Texas, then the signs say “toilets”, not bathrooms or restrooms. Restroom is interchangeable with toilet and bathroom, but bathroom is not interchangeable with restroom or toilet.
    – Megas
    Commented Jun 22 at 4:09
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    I have never heard “toilet” used conversationally in the US to describe the room with a toilet so I would strongly argue they’re not interchangeable in the US. It’s a bathroom or a restroom. Bathroom is more casual, restroom is more formal. So you might ask a friend where the bathroom is but you’d ask a stranger where the restroom is.
    – bob
    Commented Jun 23 at 2:15
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A toilet (room) needs to have a toilet (fixture) in it

Because if you need to go to the toilet, you are going to be in trouble if the room you are directed to doesn’t have one. The toilet in “needing to go to the toilet” is neither the room nor the fixture - it’s the verb for the action of defecating/urinating. You can go to the toilet behind a tree if you need to. When an English speaker is going to the toilet, it’s the act of defecation/urination, not the walk to the fixture they are describing.

However, English is not just one language and words for rooms where bodily functions happen is one area where idiosyncratic euphemisms abound.

In North American English, it’s slightly rude to use “toilet” for the room: euphemisms used there are restroom or bathroom. Used in this context, a bathroom, does not need to have a bath or shower in it - a room with just a toilet, with or without a basin, can be called a bathroom if the intention of the parties is clear. Even though the usage is not common outside North America, a visitor to your home asking to use the bathroom is understood to be asking to use the toilet, not to have a bath.

It’s perfectly fine to use toilet in British or Australian English and, at least in Australia, it’s the default to the extent that signs to public toilets will say “toilet”, with or without pictograms:

Unisex Ambulant Toilet Sign

The name for the room came before the name for the fixture - both water closet (WC) and lavatory for the fixture pre-date using toilet.

Toilet entered English from French in the 16c and meant “a small piece of cloth”, particularly one in which you wrapped clothes or other cloth. It the came to mean the small piece of cloth you put over your shoulders when dressing or shaving. Then the act of dressing or shaving itself. Then the room is which you did this. These rooms often had lavatories attached or incorporated, so it transferred from the room to the fixture. And finally from the fixture to the act of using it.

In certain circumstances, an English speaker could directly use the modern French word toilette, which took a different path and means washing yourself or adjusting hair or make up. Which is why Eau de Toilette means perfume even though it’s literal translation “toilet water” means the water at the bottom of a toilet. Don’t get them confused!

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    In British English a bathroom always has a bath in it. We never say "bathroom" to mean toilet - if you say "I need to go to the bathroom" it sounds like you have a sudden urgent need to take a bath. (At least this was the case ~10 years ago when I last lived in the UK, maybe it's changed now.)
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Jun 21 at 12:15
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    @N.Virgo if you say it in an American accent, people will probably know what you mean, though.
    – AakashM
    Commented Jun 21 at 12:29
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    @Mari-LouA: I determined it by living in the UK since birth and being surrounded by people who did the same ;). The vast majority of people I know would say "sink" for both what you find in a bathroom and what you find in a kitchen, but it may of course vary by region/class/other factors. I'm not sure whether dishwashers are a factor but I hope you get one one day :-)
    – psmears
    Commented Jun 21 at 16:33
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    IKEA UK/IE uses "Bathroom sink", and I would use the word to the exclusion of most others. ikea.com/gb/en/cat/bathroom-sinks-20723 Commented Jun 21 at 16:33
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    Toronto, Canada: the fixture in a bathroom (or washroom, but almost never "restroom" - that's American) is absolutely a "(bathroom) sink", and people are likely not to understand if you say "(wash)basin". I can't even recall the last time I've heard the latter. Commented Jun 22 at 2:42
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In some places, yes

I teach at an international boarding school in the US.

My Australian students will absolutely ask me if they can go to the toilet. For my yankee ears, that does sound, if not vulgar, at least too direct. Some of my Chinese students will also say toilet, but not all - I think it depends on who taught them English - they may have had an Australian teacher in Hong Kong, an American teacher in Shanghai, an Indian teacher in Taipei, etc.

My domestic students overwhelmingly say "bathroom", but a few from very formal families and / or old money will say "washroom".

My grandparents (raised in turn of the century upstate New York) did say "water closet" or "wc" [double-you-cee] so this use was endemic to the US at one point but I imagine went out with television. They also had a "davenport" in their family room, an "icebox" in their kitchen, and put on "rubbers" when it rained, none of which would be recognized as such by any of my students.

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  • I went to one of the poshest boarding schools out there though now it is a day school. And the only people who said washroom were southern/western. Never northern. I personally have never heard an old-money northerner say it. Fat lot of good that school did me. Except that no one can now outsnob me. Too much education but no money. Haha One minor story: The housemother said we weren't to pick up chicken with our fingers. My mother (a southern lady, fried chicken, wink, wink) said, it's okay to do so with one hand. That shut the housemother up. :)
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 21 at 16:41
  • Anyway, you have a definite teaching point there.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 21 at 16:58
  • @Lambie At least traditionally, southerners have more formal manners than anywhere else in the US. Although I think such regionalisms are decreasing.
    – Kirt
    Commented Jun 21 at 17:45
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    @JanusBahsJacquet In the case of 'davenport', they would have no idea what the word meant. In the case of 'rubbers', they would think that the only possible thing it could refer to was erasers (UK) or condoms (US).
    – Kirt
    Commented Jun 24 at 1:43
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    @Megas RE "calling a room a toilet" Why is any word considered crude or vulgar? Why is "defecate" perfectly good in the most polite company or formal setting, but "s**t" is not? Words just take on meanings and connotations, and while one might learn something by studying the history, all around it doesn't matter. In the US, we just don't call the room a "toilet" or a "toilet room". That's the name of the fixture. We call the room a "bathroom" or "restroom". Calling it a "toilet room" sounds a little crude to me and I think to most Americans. It just is.
    – Jay
    Commented Jun 24 at 13:03
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I have never been to Australia and so I don't know the common terminology there.

In the US, a "toilet" is the fixture that you use to dispose of bodily waste. The room it is in is generally called a "bathroom", even if it doesn't have a bath tub. "Restroom" is also common, especially for the room with toilets in a public place, like a store or restaurant. Yes, someone might say, "I have to go to the toilet", but this means they need to eliminate waste, they're referring to the fixture, and not particularly to the room. It's more common to say "I have to go to the bathroom", probably because this is considered more polite. Occasionally people will say, "I have to pee" or "I have to poop", but this is generally considered just a bit crude. "I have to s**t" or "I have to take a s**t" is also used, but this is definitely crude and would not normally be said in "polite company".

For what it's worth, I now live in the Philippines, where the accepted term for the room is "comfort room". "Bathroom" and "restroom" are recognized, probably because of American influence. So if a foreigner asks, "Where's your bathroom?", this would be readily understood, but few natives would say that.

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    I believe the correct word in Australia is 'dunny'. Commented Jun 21 at 12:41
  • It’s hard to tell. Some could refer to the room. There are portable toilets. Most would call it a restroom though. In Australia, the fixture is also called a toilet.
    – Megas
    Commented Jun 21 at 13:23
  • @Micheal Dunny is slang for toilet. I haven’t heard this used by anyone there. Most would call it a toilet, or sometimes, a bathroom. One person said “men’s room” to me and another said “washroom” to me. Washroom is Canadian, while men’s room is American.
    – Megas
    Commented Jun 21 at 13:24
  • @Megas I've never heard "dunny". Perhaps that is Australian slang, but I'm not aware of it being used in the US. Yes, "men's room" and "ladies' room" are terms used in the US for public restrooms, where there are separate rooms for men and women. I've never heard someone refer to a bathroom in a house, where there is only one for both sexes, as a "men's room". Though if someone said, "I have to go to the men's room" and then went to a common room, I doubt anyone would think much of it. Amusingly, the obviously parallel to "men's room" would be "women's room", but you rarely hear that.
    – Jay
    Commented Jun 22 at 3:29
  • Dunny is an Australian slang like john and can are for the toilet in America. However, in Australia, most stick with toilet, but occasionally will say bathroom if they don’t need to use the toilet. Restroom is written on signs in shopping centres.
    – Megas
    Commented Jun 22 at 4:15
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No, only use toilet if there's a toilet in there.

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  • I don't see that anything more needs to be said on such a simple question? Why are we all so prolix?
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 22 at 21:04
  • So, is it okay to call the room a toilet instead of a bathroom even if it has a bath or shower in it?
    – Megas
    Commented Jun 23 at 2:32
  • Your question was: is it right to call a room which has a toilet, but also has a bath/shower, a toilet? The answer is "yes". No matter how many times you ask, and are told the answer, and you disagree with the answer, the answer is simply yes.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 23 at 3:26
  • lling you the tradition and commonality in English. There is no logic whatsoever to any language, it's just commonality and tradition.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 23 at 3:30
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    @Megas Language doesn't have to be logical or polite. The answer is yes, people frequently use toilet to refer to a room with a bath and a toilet. Whether or not you like that, is completely out of scope Commented Jun 23 at 10:21
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Yes!

A toilet is (today) generally understood to be a specific appliance, but that does not match its etymology, which could easily have been Googled.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilet#Etymology

The word comes from the French for a cloth used in grooming. Over time it became synonymous with the room used for grooming, which in time acquired facilities for washing and, yes, disposing of bodily wastes.

Historic English usage has always been hung-up on anything related to body function and has employed euphemisms for the lot of it, including needs for urination and defecation.

Hence, the modern flush toilet quickly became a reference to the appliance itself and is so known today.

Nevertheless, the older sense of the toilet as a reference to the room itself remains in many people’s vocabulary, and is no more offensive than “water closet” or “lavatory” or “bath room”, all terms references to the wash room function, wherein a modern toilet fixture may also be found (in Western countries, at least. In Japan, for example, the fixture is kept in a room separate from the washing room(s)).

Even for those not familiar with the room reference, there is always a sink near a toilet fixture. And even when people think the word “toilet” is low-brow, they still have a pretty good idea what kind of room you are aiming to find.

If in doubt, let someone know you are unfamiliar with the local vocabulary and ask them what they call the room with the toilet in it.

If you are actually looking to bathe or shower, say so.

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    Sorry, but how are bathroom, lavatory, and water closet offensive?
    – Megas
    Commented Jun 23 at 10:49
  • Uh, they're not. How on earth did you infer I make any such claim?
    – Dúthomhas
    Commented Jun 23 at 15:42
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In the US the most common polite names for a room containing a toilet the I’ve heard used conversationally are “bathroom”, “restroom”, “ladies room”, and “men’s room”. “Bathroom” is more casual, while “restroom”, “men’s room”, and “ladies room” are more formal. So you might ask a friend where the bathroom is but you’d ask a stranger where the restroom is or where the men’s room or ladies room is. Toilet would sound odd if not a little crass if used to describe the room and not just the commode itself.

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    Lets be real. Its hard to tell if people in any country mean the room or just the appliance when saying toilet. Also, why would it sound crass in just the US to use the word that literally all the other countries use? Ladies room and mens room arent that formal in the US. I do agree I heard bathroom and restroom used the most there, with restroom for the public toilets and bathroom for the ones with a bath.
    – Megas
    Commented Jun 23 at 2:35
  • Toilet to my ears sounds crass (I know it’s not elsewhere in the world, but it sounds that way to me as an American) because it highlights the object that we’ll be using, and thus what will be done there not just the room itself. In the US we kind of go out of our way to avoid saying the purpose of the room at least when using polite speech. We don’t rest in a restroom and bathing isn’t its primary function either.
    – bob
    Commented Jun 23 at 2:49
  • I meant bathing isn’t a bathroom’s primary function. Wrote that last part wrong.
    – bob
    Commented Jun 23 at 3:19
  • Neither is using a toilet a primary function either. However, one should always wash themselves if they have hygenine, which is why I love washroom more than restroom, toilet, or bathroom. I will admit restroom does sound weird, and even bathroom does for public toilets. Toilet is a ridiculous word though. This one time, my mom was talking to this lady working in my residence building, and she kept calling the room in my unit a toilet despite having a shower, while my mom kept calling it a bathroom. It showed how cringe the lady saying toilet sounded. Toilet is only for public bathrooms.
    – Megas
    Commented Jun 23 at 4:09
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I deny the premise of the question. I have never heard the asserted usage (that 'toilet' is used to refer to the room containing a bath) in this context. I've lived in Australia for more than six decades (since I was born apart from a few months overseas), in three states - and have visited more. I encountered no regional variation in usage.

If an Australian asks for a toilet, they specifically want a room with a toilet in it, wherever that happens to be. The existence or nonexistence of a bath in that room will be immaterial. If they want a bath, they'll certainly ask for a bathroom.

If an Australian says "I need to go to the toilet" they certainly want to end up in a room with a toilet fixture in it because they want to use that specific fixture.

A room with a bath in it will nearly always be called a bathroom but can have other names (e.g. a small bathroom coming off a bedroom might be called an en suite; it might nevertheless have a small bath in it, or perhaps just a shower). The toilet fixture, if a room with a bath includes one is itself a called a toilet, but I'm quite sure I've never heard the term used to refer to the room itself. If you point into the room with a bath in it and ask "what's this room called?" you won't get "toilet" unless perhaps you just asked about a toilet.

If you say to an Australian "where's the toilet?" they may point to the bathroom, not because they would call the room a toilet but because that's where the toilet happens to be in that house.

Many Australian homes (my own included) include a room that might be called the toilet (among other names), but a room called by that name doesn't contain a bath; it will have a toilet fixture, and may include a sink, or perhaps a room with a sink suitable for washing hands may be adjacent to it (perhaps a laundry room, for example, which are common in Australia).

I've had overseas visitors ask for the bathroom when they actually want the toilet, which seems odd, since that's maybe a 50-50 shot here unless you're in a unit (apartment). Those two things have only coincided in a very small number of the places I've lived (I vastly prefer it that way; I like the room containing my toothbrush, razor, band aids and so forth well away from where the toilet facility is if I have any choice). If they're the sort of person that can take a joke, I'll direct them to the room they asked for - one containing a bath - rather than ask whether they actually want a room with a toilet in it ... unless the mission appears urgent, naturally.

I've had no difficulty getting to a room with a toilet in it in either the UK or the US by simply asking where the toilet is. Common usage will typically prefer other terms but the word is understood and avoids any possible confusion about what you seek.

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  • I live in Sydney now. Bathroom is common here for people to say, though toilet is the most common for public toilet rooms. However, restroom is written on signs in shopping centers. Without adding the word “room” in front of “toilet”, it’s hard to tell if the person is referring to the appliance or the room itself. In the USA, people sometimes say they need to go to the toilet, but there, bathroom and restroom are used a lot more than in Australia. I am from New South Wales in the Sydney area.
    – Megas
    Commented Jun 24 at 7:31
  • I live in Sydney too. I've been here since 1981. Across a variety of suburbs. If you ask for a bathroom somewhere public, of course nobody will assume you wish to take a bath, especially if you appear to be from overseas. If you're in a private home and you ask where the bathrooms are, those rooms will contain facilities for bathing unless they think you're actually asking for a toilet (which they may if you're from overseas). The rooms with baths may contain a toilet as well, or they might not, but any such inclusion won't make the room with a bath into anything but a bathroom. ...
    – Glen_b
    Commented Jun 24 at 7:40
  • ... ctd If you ask where the toilet is, you'll certainly be directed to a room with a toilet facility, whether or not it has a bath. If it has a bath, the room is still a bathroom.
    – Glen_b
    Commented Jun 24 at 7:43
  • Yeah. I see signs saying toilets most of the time, which I assume would be referring to the appliance and not the room itself cause the sign says “toilets”, not “toilet”, cause Australia too has toilet as the term for the appliance, and bathroom is used too for the public toilet room. I had heard washroom once and even “men’s room”. The first is Canadian while the second is USA.
    – Megas
    Commented Jun 24 at 8:53
-1

Summary: Toilet would be universally understood and generally considered correct, but I have always understood 'Water Closet' to be the standard, totally specific, non-slang word for a toilet.

'Toilet' certainly is in common use in many places for a bathroom without a toilet, and is considered to be idiomatic, standard, polite English. The terms used for a toilet and the room in which it is housed do vary quite a lot, as some of the other answers have made clear. Here is a quite good list.

It is much more common to find a room with a bath/shower plus a toilet than a room with just a bath/shower. You do see 'shower rooms' in gyms, however, which would not be called a toilet.

Pedantically, and very formally, 'toilet' is a euphemism - it originally referred to the room in which one ‘made one's toilet’ - the process of washing, arranging your hair, putting on perfume, and so on. It can be considered very roughly equivalent to 'bathroom', 'washroom', or 'lavatory', which all literally mean the room in which you clean yourself. I have always understood 'Water Closet' to be the standard, totally specific, non-slang word for a toilet, and in at least some countries it is commonly seen on signs in the abbreviation 'WC'. This term would only be used for a room without a bath/shower, however, which leaves the name of a room with both a bit ambiguous.

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    In the US I never heard or said 'water closet', not even knowing what it meant. I've never encountered that phrase in popular novels. I don't think it is idiomatic American English. I also did not perceive 'toilet' as polite. Are those usages UK English?
    – piojo
    Commented Jun 21 at 13:07
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    Yep, I had never heard water closet anywhere. It’s a British usage I believe, but I think most in British would call it a toilet. Loo is another informal slang for toilet in Britain. Why is toilet impolite?
    – Megas
    Commented Jun 21 at 13:25
  • @Megas Toilet is usually considered perfectly polite (as polite as talking about toilets can be!). 99% of the time people will consider it a normal word to use, even if you're referring to a room without an actual toilet in it (though as you're aware there are a lot of regional slang terms). 'Water closet' in full is pretty rare, but you do see WC signs moderately often, and not just in Britain!
    – aantia
    Commented Jun 21 at 13:54
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    I would like to emphasise that this answer is quite pedantic, probably more than is ideal for an answer to learners. Generally people will understand what you mean if you use any word for toilet - or just an embarrassed "can I use your, um..."
    – aantia
    Commented Jun 21 at 14:07
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    water closet is archaic! :) toilet is never impolite, even in the States.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 21 at 16:31

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