Sorry! Search is currently unavailable while the database is being updated, it will be back in 5 mins!

Un tour des toilettes

Most tourist phrase books are bound to include the handy little phrase Où sont les toilettes s’il vous plaît ? ("Where are the toilets, please?") The word toilettes is self-explanatory, but it has other meanings besides the obvious. So, let’s explore some toilette-related vocabulary and discuss the evolution of public restrooms.


The French cognate of "bathroom" is la salle de bain. But whereas "bathroom" is a catch-all term for any type of restroom, la salle de bain specifically refers to a bathroom containing une baignoire (a bathtub) or une douche (a shower)—in other words, a bathroom you can bathe in (salle de bain literally means "bathing room"). You'll typically find this type of bathroom in someone's home:


Alors ici, c'est la salle de bain.

So here, this is the bathroom.

Caption 35, Joanna Son appartement

 Play Caption


Inside Joanna's salle de bain, you will find les toilettes (the toilet) and a few other essentials:


Vous avez un placard ici, les toilettes, le lavabo, avec du savon pour me laver les mains.

You have a cupboard here, the toilet, the sink, with some soap for me to wash my hands.

Caption 36, Joanna Son appartement

 Play Caption


La salle de bain is where one goes to faire sa toilette (wash up):


Allons Susie, il faut rentrer faire ta toilette.

Come on, Susie, you have to wash up.

Caption 5, Il était une fois: L’Espace 6. La révolte des robots - Part 1

 Play Caption


To do that, you may want to use un gant de toilette (a washcloth), an item that the piglet Piggeldy always carries in his suitcase:


Pyjama, dentifrice, brosse à dents, savon et gant de toilette.

Pajamas, toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, and washcloth.

Caption 13, Piggeldy et Frédéric Voyage à Pont-à-Cochon

 Play Caption


As for Sacha in the video below, she doesn’t travel light, since she carries deux trousses de toilette (two toiletry bags):


Trois brosses à dents, deux trousses de toilette...

Three toothbrushes, two toiletry bags...

Caption 15, Extr@ Ep. 11 - Les vacances - Part 4

 Play Caption


Most people don’t usually include le papier toilette (toilet paper) in their travel kit, but this essential item was in short supply in the early days of the COVID pandemic:


Les ventes de pâtes ont été multipliées par cinq, celles de papier toilette par trois et demi...

Sales of pasta have increased fivefold, those of toilet paper by three and a half...

Captions 21-22, Le Monde Coronavirus : bientôt la pénurie dans les supermarchés ?

 Play Caption


In France, les toilettes publiques (public toilets) come in various shapes and sizes. Some are round and made of cast-iron. Known as les vespasiennes in reference to the Roman emperor Vespasian, these vintage urinals date from the 1900s and are fast disappearing. Daniel Benchimol gives us a glimpse of one of the last remaining ones in his tour of Paris's thirteenth arrondissement:


...ce sont ces toilettes: on les appelle les  « vespasiennes ».

....are these toilets: we call them "vespasiennes" [urinals].

Caption 16, Voyage dans Paris Le Treizième arrondissement de Paris - Part 1

 Play Caption


French speakers also adopted the British acronym "WC" (water closet) to refer to public toilets. Note that it’s always known as les WC (plural), and it's pronounced "vay-say" (as if it were written VC). The term WC is somewhat dated in France, but you'll still see it around:


Le terme « les WC » figurent encore sur les plans de ville.

The term "WC" still features on city maps.


You might even hear the term les waters


« Les waters » est un autre synonyme pour les toilettes publiques.

"Water closet" is another synonym for public restrooms.


Even more dated is les cabinets. Be careful with this one: in the plural form, it refers to a toilet, but un cabinet is a professional office:


Les cabinets extérieurs sont plutôt rares.

Outhouses are rather rare.


Je suis secrétaire dans un cabinet médical. 

I'm a secretary in a doctor's office


For a more modern type of toilet, we have les sanisettes, which are fully automated restrooms on the streets of major cities like Paris:


La première sanisette a été ouverte le 10 novembre 1981.

The first sanisette opened on November 10, 1981.


More recently, an environmentally-friendly invention called l'uritrottoir (sidewalk urinal) was introduced in 2018 to help curb les pipis sauvages (peeing on the streets). First tested in the cities of Nantes and Paris, they caused a bit of an uproar, as the public complained that these minimalist urinals afforded little privacy and encouraged exhibitionism. Per Wikipedia


« Un uritrottoir est un urinoir public écologique...destiné à lutter contre les incivilités urinaires ».

uritrottoir is a public, eco-friendly urinal...aimed at curbing public urination.”


Many public toilets have separate male and female facilities. To make sure you enter the correct one, look for the letter F (for femmes) or H (for hommes). This is the way to ask for the men’s room or ladies’ room:


Où sont les toilettes pour hommes ? Où sont les toilettes pour femmes ?

Where is the men's room? Where is the ladies' room?


But nowadays, restrooms are not necessarily gender specific:


Les toilettes unisexes ou mixtes sont utilisables par les deux sexes.

Unisex and all-gender toilets may be used by both sexes.


That’s it for our tour of the toilettes! Wishing you a stress-free search for public restrooms in French-speaking countries. If you're ever in need of one in France, try consulting


French Words with the Letter Z... Or, How to Improve Your Scrabble Score

This lesson is brought to you by the letter Z. Why the letter Z? Because few French nouns contain the letter Z. On the other hand, most verbs do, which is a handy thing to know when playing French Scrabble, as the letter Z is a high-scoring letter. 


Almost all verbs in the second-person plural vous (you) end in -ez, as in vous savez (you know). What’s more, this is the case in pretty much all moods and tenses.


In the present tense:


Et toujours, vous savez, la langue est toujours liée à la culture.

And always, you know, a language is always tied to its culture.

Caption 42, Allons en France Pourquoi apprendre le français?

 Play Caption


In the imperfect tense: 


Le saviez-vous?

Did you know?

Caption 1, Le saviez-vous? L'art culinaire français

 Play Caption


In the future tense:


Maintenant vous saurez que à chaque fois que vous entendez un verbe qui se termine par le son "é", c'est un verbe du premier groupe

Now you will know that each time you hear a verb that ends with the sound "é," it's a first-group verb

Captions 42-45, Le saviez-vous? Les verbes du 1er groupe

 Play Caption


In the conditional mood:


Sauriez-vous jouer au Scrabble en français?

Could you play French Scrabble?


While most verbs conjugated with vous (you) end in -ez, there are not as many nouns ending in Z. But a few of them are very commonly used, such as chez (at/to the home of), le riz (rice), le nez (nose), le raz-de-marée (tidal wave), and le rez-de-chaussée (ground floor):


Bienvenue chez moi

Welcome to my home

Caption 7, Stromae Bienvenue chez moi

 Play Caption


Elles mangent du riz.

They  are eating rice.

Caption 28, Farid et Hiziya Boire et manger

 Play Caption


ce Milanais qui vous peignait une courgette en guise de nez

this Milanese man who painted you a zucchini as a nose

Captions 23-24, d'Art d'Art "Les quatre saisons" - Arcimboldo

 Play Caption


Mieux encore, les racines des palétuviers amortissent les effets des raz-de-marée et des fameux tsunamis.

Better still, the mangrove roots absorb the impact of tidal waves and notorious tsunamis.

Captions 19-20, Il était une fois: Notre Terre 9. Les écosystèmes - Part 7

 Play Caption


J'habite au rez-de-chaussée, donc je n'ai pas besoin de monter les escaliers.

I live on the ground floor, so I don't need to go up the stairs.

Caption 6, Joanna Son appartement

 Play Caption


As you can hear in the examples above, Z at the end of a word is almost always silent in French. So then why do we pronounce the Z in gaz (gas), for example? That’s because it's usually pronounced in words of foreign origin:


Factures: téléphone, gaz, électricité.

Bills: telephone, gas, electricity.

Caption 30, Extr@ Ep. 1 - L'arrivée de Sam - Part 1

 Play Caption


Le français a une bande passante qui fait mille, deux mille hertz

French has a bandwidth that measures one thousand, two thousand hertz

Caption 34, Lionel Langue sous hypnose

 Play Caption


When Z comes at the beginning or in the middle of a word, it is always sounded just as it is in English. Here are a couple of interjections starting with Z:


Allez, zou!

Come on, let's go!

Caption 111, Claire et Philippe La campagne

 Play Caption


Je pourrais dire "zut" aussi.

I could also say "zut" [darn].

Caption 8, Le saviez-vous? Les expressions inspirées de la musique - Part 2

 Play Caption


You'll also find the letter Z in certain numerals, such as quinze (fifteen), seize (sixteen), and zéro (zero): 


Et voilà, me voilà parée pour,  sortir par, moins zéro, moins quinze degrés.

And there we have it, here I am dressed to go out in below zero, negative fifteen degrees.

Caption 14, Fanny parle des saisons S'habiller en hiver

 Play Caption


Now that you’ve zipped through this lesson, we trust that you will apply this newfound knowledge with le zeste (zest) and le zèle (zeal)!


Monter's Many Meanings

Monter is a French verb that can come in handy in many situations. We find the most basic meaning of the verb in our interview with Joanna, whose apartment is so tiny that her entire kitchen fits inside a cupboard! And although living on the ground floor means she doesn’t have to climb any stairs, she does have to climb a ladder to get to her bed.


J'habite au rez-de-chaussée,

I live on the ground floor,

donc je n'ai pas besoin de monter les escaliers.

so I don't need to go up the stairs.

Caption 6, Joanna - Son appartement

 Play Caption


C'est pour dormir, avec mon lit, et je dois monter à cette échelle.

It's for sleeping, with my bed, and I have to climb this ladder.

Caption 14, Joanna - Son appartement

 Play Caption



Joanna uses the verb monter to describe going up the stairs and climbing the ladder. Although “to go up” is the verb's most basic meaning, there are quite a few others. For example, a price or a level of something can also monter:

Le prix de l’essence monte chaque année.

The price of gas rises every year. 

Jean-Marc also uses the verb to talk about getting inside his dream car:


À chaque fois que je monte dedans, j'y prends beaucoup de plaisir.

Every time I get in, I enjoy it very much.

Caption 13, Jean-Marc - Voiture de rêve

 Play Caption


The opposite of monter is descendre (to go down), and just as monter can refer to getting into a car or onto a bus or train, descendre refers to getting out or off:

On va monter dans le train à Bastille et descendre à République.

We’ll get on the train at Bastille and get off at République. 

Note that it’s monter dans le train (literally, “to go up into the train”) and descendre du train (to descend from the train).

When monter is used with a direct object, it can mean “to put up,” “set up,” “establish,” or “put together”:


C'était un peu une façon pour moi et de faire un film et de monter une pièce.

It was kind of a way for me to make not only a film but also to stage a play.

Caption 18, TLT Toulouse - Dorfman mis en scène à Toulouse

 Play Caption


Il a réussi à monter sa propre pizzeria.

He succeeded in opening his own pizzeria.

Caption 3, Le Journal - Les microcrédits

 Play Caption


Donc, le crapaud il va falloir beaucoup plus de temps pour le monter.

So for the squat, it will take much longer to put it together.

Caption 37, Le Tapissier - L'artisan et son travail

 Play Caption


Speaking of direct objects, it’s good to know what to do with monter in the past tense (passé composé). Monter is one of the few verbs that usually takes the auxiliary être in the passé composé instead of avoir:

Joanna est montée à l’échelle. 

Joanna climbed the ladder.

But when monter takes a direct object and becomes transitive, it does take avoir:

Nous avons monté une pièce.

We staged a play.


The passé composé is a very tricky aspect of French grammar. You can find a detailed introduction to it here.

This lesson just dips its toe into the verb’s numerous possibilities: you can also monter un film (edit a film), monter à cheval (ride a horse), monter un complot (hatch a plot), monter au combat (go to battle), monter des blancs d’œufs (whisk egg whites), and much more!

You can find a comprehensive list of monter's meanings on this site.