How to ask, "Where is the bathroom" in Chinese - 20 Questions to Basic Fluency #9

Last time we took a look at how to say, “What are you doing tomorrow?” in Chinese.  If you missed that discussion, take some time to 
go back and answer the question in the reply.
(see all
 "20 Questions to Basic Fluency.")


Today's question, "Where is the bathroom?" is probably one of the most important to know in any language.  Asking for the location of something in Chinese is wonderfully simple, so let's take a look.

Cèsǔo zài nǎ'er?
Where is the

A: 在那里

First let's check out the question.  All you need to do is start out your question with the place you want to know about.  In this case,
 厕所 (cèsǔo).   Next, the verb
 在(zài) means “is.” (*Note: You may remember that 是(shì) also means “is” as in, 我是美国人(Wǒ shì měiguó rén) “I
am American.”

The verb 在(zài) is used to express“to be” when you want to know where something is.  You can't use 是(shì) in this context.) Finally, use
 哪儿(nǎ’er) which means "where."  It’s backward from the English word order but still very easy to understand.  The beauty of this pattern is that you use it for people, places, and things so it’s very high frequency and very flexible.  The answer is even simpler. 

To respond you once again use the verb
 在(zài).  But here you can leave out the place that you asked about in the question.  We do the same in English too.  Once you’ve established that “the bathroom” is the topic in question, there is no need to repeat it in the answer.  Can you say it again?  Sure thing.  Place 厕所 (cèsǔo) in front of 在(zài) and you’re good to go.

The end of the sentence is where you find the information about where the place is.  In our answer we have
 那里(nǎlǐ) which means “there.”  Obviously there could be a lot of information about directions to the place you are asking about so
 那里(nǎlǐ)is just one of many options.  Notice that now the word order matches with the English exactly.

More Info

You may have noticed that 哪儿(nǎ’er) in the question and 那里(nǎlǐ) in the answer have a similar pronunciation and that the characters almost look identical.  The little 口 in front of 哪儿(nǎ’er) signifies that it is a question and it means “which.”  If 口 isn’t in there, then it isn’t a question and it means, “that.”  Another important point is that 儿(er) and 里(lǐ) are interchangeable in this context.  You can use either one with 哪(nǎ) and 那(nǎ) and be perfectly correct. 


Here is a list of places that you might need to ask about.  Just substitute any one from the list below for 
厕所 (cèsǔo)in the question:



城市 - Chéngshì – the city

市中心 - Shì zhōngxīn - downtown

市场 - Shìchǎng – the market

商场 - Shāngchǎng – the mall

商店 - Shāngdiàn – the store (a shop)

超级市场 - Chāojí shìchǎng – grocery market

药店 - Yàodiàn - the pharmacy

饭店 - Fàndiàn - restaurant

面馆 - Miànguǎn – noodle shop

路边摊 - Lù biān tān – street vendor

咖啡馆 - Kāfēi guǎn – the cafe

茶馆 - Cháguǎn – tea house

酒吧 - Jiǔbā – the bar

图书馆 - Túshū guǎn – the library

书店 - Shūdiàn – the bookstore

公园 - Gōngyuán – the park

博物馆 - Bówùguǎn – the museum

学校 - Xuéxiào - school

办公室 - Bàngōngshì – the office

工作 - Gōngzuò - work

教堂 - Jiàotáng - church

银行 - Yínháng – the bank

邮局 - Yóujú – the post office

海边 - Hǎibiān – the ocean

湖边 - Hú biān – the lake

河边 - Hé biān – the river

山 - Shān – the mountains

沙漠 - Shāmò – the desert

农场 - Nóngchǎng – the farm

工厂 - Gōngchǎng – the facotry

体育馆 - Tǐyùguǎn – the gym

游泳池 - Yóuyǒngchí – the pool

球场 - Qiúchǎng – the (ball) field/court

高尔夫场 - Gāo'ěrfū chǎng – the golf course

自动取款机 - Zìdòng qǔkuǎn jī – the ATM

机场 - Jīchǎng – the airport


Understanding directions in another language is notoriously difficult.  Your understanding depends as much on your listening comprehension as it does on the other person's ability to explain the route clearly (and his honesty about whether or not he actually knows where the place is that you are asking about.)  As a beginner in this situation, sometimes the best you can do is find out if the place is close or far, have people point you in the general direction and then ask someone else further down the road.  So the list below is more of a guide for listening than a structure for how to give directions.  Listen for these words to show up  in the answer. 

A: 在那里


那里-Nàlǐ - there

这里-Zhèlǐ - here

后面-Hòumiàn - behind

前面-Qiánmiàn – in front

对面-Duìmiàn – opposite

附近-Fùjìn - near

远-Yuǎn - far

旁边-Pángbiān – next to

拐角-Guǎijiǎo - corner

北-Běi  - north

南-Nán -south

东-Dōng -east

西-Xi - west

左-Zuǒ -left

右-Yòu - right

(Photo credit
 Debs (ò‿ó)♪)

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Comment by jlverbie on March 22, 2012 at 1:08pm

great article and ^great point about toilet sounding crass in American english

Comment by JP Villanueva on March 19, 2012 at 8:48am

I always say "洗手间在哪里?" and rub my hands together just in case i screw up the /x/ and the /s/.  I think somebody somewhere told me that 厕所 sounded a little crass.  

As an American the word "toilet" to me sounds a little crass, because for us the toilet is the white porcelain furniture that you sit on.  I know in other Englishes, it just means what we refer to as "bathroom."  

Top Member
Comment by Thomas Doherty on March 18, 2012 at 6:42am

   The usage of the verb 在(zài) is much clearer to me now.  As you say "  The verb 在(zài) is used to express“to be” when you want to know where something is.  You can't use 是(shì) in this context.  "

Comment by Mats Fredholm on March 16, 2012 at 3:21am

great stuff,


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