Is the word "stool" an informal word or a formal word? I think it is a kind of formal word, especially a medical word. It is used in several academic papers and articles, and also doctors like using this word when they want to talk about status of patients' excrements. However my English teacher(not native speaker) said that the word stool is an informal word, like poo and I should use "feces or excrement" as formal language. So I told him that I think it looks like a formal word than informal word because basically it is a specialized word. Then he said that "Native speakers" use the word stool in informal conversation as using phasal verbs like"have a stool", "after stool", or "go to stool". I have never heard of those kind of expressions before. Is he correct?

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    I (a UK citizen) have never heard anyone say any of the examples of "Native speech" given by your English teacher. Someone might say "I need to have a poo" or "I need to have a crap" but never "I need to have a stool" - "stool", for "poo" (as opposed to a chair with no back, the other meaning), is only ever used in a medical context. The other examples ("after stool" and "go to stool") don't even work if you subsitute poo, shit, crap, etc. Commented May 11, 2016 at 7:54
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    I (a native US English speaker) concur with @MaxWilliams; though the colloquial expressions here are slightly different, in my experience none of them involve stool, which is used only in medical contexts. We are more likely to say "take a crap" than "have a crap," but otherwise everything else fits.
    – phoog
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 8:24
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    "after stool", or "go to stool"? Sure he isn't getting confused with "school"? Commented May 11, 2016 at 8:57
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    @MartinSmith that would explain a lot... but also give rise to (embarrasing) misunderstandings :D
    – oerkelens
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 10:16
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    Your English teacher is telling you a load of stool.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 14:09

5 Answers 5


It is only ever used in a formal medical sense, with examples from the sixteenth century.

Stool derives from the name given to an enclosed chamber, or commode, used for producing stools.

The most usual form is in the plural.

d. A discharge of fæcal matter of a specified colour, consistency, etc.; the matter discharged (chiefly pl.). (OED sense 5d).

It is certainly NOT a slang expression, and I have no idea why it would appear in street dictionaries.

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    (And, of course, "stool" is a perfectly fine word to use for a tall chair -- eg, "bar stool". It's use in this sense is not at all "tainted" by the toilet sense.)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 11:56
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    It is worth noting that stool or stools is a "polite" expression, and I have seen online... stool charts describing different types of faecal matter. Perhaps the OP's teacher had seen these, and understood the term was informal. Purely supposition of course...
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 12:02
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    I've used informally and not in relation to medicine. People have understood me.
    – Jodrell
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 13:33
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    "It is only ever used in a formal medical sense" .. an exception is the relatively common phrase "loose stool" or "loose stools".
    – Fattie
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 14:45
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    @HotLicks - Not necessarily tall. A milking stool for example is quite short, as is a foot stool or a piano stool. The distinction between a chair and a stool is a bit fuzzy. "Stool" often refers to a chair without a back, but there are some bar stools which have backs, so there's no definition that works 100% of the time. Commented May 11, 2016 at 15:18

"Stool" is more formal than poop or poo but sometimes more comfortable to say than feces or excrement.

You could say "I've been having loose stool" to express that you don't quite have diarrhea, but it's somewhat in that direction.

An example from Angel in Disguise: A Memoir

The next morning after the children had their breakfast, I asked Verna “Have you fed the baby?”

“She's not hungry', she said.

“Does she still have a loose stool?” I asked.

“No more”, she said. “She just wants to sleep”.

You could also say "I have to give a stool sample" or "I have to get a stool sample from my dog to bring to the vet".

You could also use the word stool if you need to describe your or your baby's poop, such as "there's corn in my stool", "my baby has tarry stool", "bloody stool", "black stool", "hard stool", "watery stool", etc.

Or "Mom, I swallowed some sand"; "Don't worry, it'll come out in your stool".

And how could I forget, "Honey, could you pick me up some stool softener when you go to the store?"

So stool isn't so formal that no one uses it in conversation, but it's use is limited to a few particular situations.

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    "a few particular situations" like, when you don't want to be profane or, sound like a child and turd seems too agricultural.
    – Jodrell
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 13:41
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    @Jodrell the 1395 Wycliffe Bible, 2Kings 18:27, said "that sitten on the wal, that thei ete her toordis, and drynke her pisse with you", so turd (toordis) and piss (pisse) were once proper enough to be used in the Bible. studylight.org/bible/wyc/2-kings/18-27.html
    – DavePhD
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 16:54
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    @DavePhD It is, in the UK at least, normally used in the plural. So the doctor would ask Does she have loose stools?, not ...a loose stool. And I've been having loose stools. It doesn't mean it isn't used in the singular, but where it is I think it would refer to a single formed item. At least I think this to be the case, but if there are any doctors or nurses out there who know otherwise, please correct me. (I apologise if you are reading this just before tea time.)
    – WS2
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 17:33
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    @WS2 You British are probably more right, but I hear the singular like "Loose stool may be related to diarrhea" healthhype.com/…
    – DavePhD
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 17:38
  • @DavePhD Diarrhoea would definitely be referred to as loose stools (plural). How did we get on to this subject?
    – WS2
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 17:39

Be interesting to hear other examples of what the teacher considers to be formal words.

How did the teacher define 'formal'? Does it mean words only used in certain settings or instances, words not commonly in use or just words that are not usually thought of, or perhaps are not specifically defined, as colloquialisms ?

English is widely spoken around the world but there are distinct differences in usage depending where you learned to speak it and there are numbers of distinct dialects as well, so I wonder if that's part of the problem. I know I had teachers who were, respectively, Australian, Egyptian and East Indian and they all used certain terms and words that were unfamiliar.

I'd expect average Australian, UK, US or Canadian English speakers should be able to understand one other without much difficulty, but there would surely be plenty of unfamiliar terms or usages that differ.

I'm a Canadian born English speaker with a very wide vocabulary. I've been known to read dictionaries just for fun. I often get puzzled looks over some of the words I use, because a good many of them simply are not part of the distressingly small common vocabulary one usually hears in everyday conversation.

I can only tell you that the word stool, as it relates to bodily waste, is not a word I've ever heard used by anyone in ordinary conversation. Diarrhea, constipation and various euphemisms for various digestive upsets or conditions are very common to hear, but not the word stool. If I hear it at all, it's in reference to a medical topic. Possibly something like, 'The vet asked me to remember to bring a stool sample when I take the cat in for her checkup'.

I think the only time I've ever heard the word used as part of anything you might consider as ordinary conversation, of a sort, was on a TV sitcom, not too long ago. This was during an episode of a show called The Big Bang Theory. It was used by the character called Sheldon, referring to bodily waste. The 'Sheldon' character speaks in a stilted, highly formal way and is depicted as a highly educated genius who is incapable of reading body language or emotional situations between people and is seriously inept with all social interactions.

So truly, the only common use I know for the word is where it refers to a backless seat.

The only times I would expect to hear the word stool used would be by a doctor, a vet, or other medical personnel or in reference to something associated with a medical topic. Most usually it's used with the word sample, as in 'can you provide a stool sample'.

I agree with the other posters that the other examples given by the teacher, 'go to stool' or 'after stool' are nothing I've ever heard and would strike me as being very awkward usage at the very least.

Around here, the phrase 'take a crap ' or sometimes, 'have a dump' indicate that someone needs to move their bowels.


Although, as others have noted, stool is mainly used when discussing medical conditions related to fecal matter and is almost never used informally, it does appear in other contexts once in a while.

For example, in a classic Saturday Night Live skit, Phil Hartman, playing Frank Sinatra, says to Sting, playing Billy Idol,

"You don't scare me. I've got chunks of guys like you in my stool!"

(Video of quote here; video of entire skit here (stool quote is near the end); transcript of skit). The use of stool, rather than one of the many informal or vulgar words for fecal matter one might expect in this context, likely contributed to the humor.

  • His impersonation of Sinatra portrayed him as a stereotypical New Jersey Italian-American, and one of their characteristics is using highbrow words to fein higher social class. So this is actually an exception that proves the rule.
    – Barmar
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 19:43

Maybe he means the fact that there exists the other meaning of stool, 'a small seat without a back'. Usage of the word stool in this context is very prevalent, particularly in India.

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