36

Our company has signs at the toilet that read

Please leave the toilet properly

Is that correct? My intuition would be that "properly" as an adverb would reference the action "leave" and not the thing "toilet." So that wouldn't make sense, right?

If it is indeed wrong - what would be a better way of phrasing it?

  • 5
    I think the confusion here might be the use of the word "toilet". In US usage, the word refers strictly to the commode, i.e. the thing you sit on. In UK and other places, it refers to the entire room where the commode is (and often a sink). This is further distinct from "bathroom", which would include a bath or shower as well. (These are often the same room in the US, but usually separate in Europe.) – Darrel Hoffman Mar 21 at 20:56
  • 8
    Seems like a better question for ell.stackexchange.com – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Mar 21 at 22:20
  • 9
    @TonyK Code blocks are not just another text format, they are semantic markup that indicates to the browser that the content within is code. Assistive technologies such as screen readers will treat code blocks differently to text, and potentially make your question unintelligible to people accessing the page using such technologies – Ty Hayes Mar 22 at 14:11
  • 3
    @TonyK I'm sorry you feel that way. It is consensus on StackExchange to only use code blocks for code. Thanks! – Azor Ahai Mar 22 at 16:47
  • 4
    @TonyK That's a rather narrow view. For starters, you're completely forgetting about an entire segment of society that does not consume written content the same way that you do. Besides that, this is part of the reason we use correct markdown for the correct job - let the formatter do the formatting, on whatever medium is in play at any given time. Don't use code blocks for things that aren't verbatim code-like technical things. Separate form from function. Also your rebuke was more officious than the edit. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 22 at 16:49
104

I read this sentence as: Please exit from the toilet in the correct manner. Don't do any silly walks. Don't try to walk through the door before you've opened it. Don't scream, "She's gonna blow!" as you charge out of the stall.

It's a grammatical English sentence and even has a real meaning, but probably not the meaning the sign writers intended.

Presumably they meant something like please leave the toilet in the proper condition. You could arguably write this as "please leave the toilet proper," in the same way that you'd write "please leave the toilet clean." We do not say, "Please leave the toilet cleanly," because, as you say, the adverb cleanly modifies the verb leave, not the noun toilet.

Still, I don't know what the "proper condition" of a toilet is, so leave the toilet proper wouldn't make sense to me. Perhaps they mean leave the toilet clean and with the seat and lid down and make sure to flush. If so, that's not coming through with that terse message.

And even if the "proper condition" were unambiguous, and if they did mean leave the toilet proper, as has been pointed out in the comments, it would be more natural to use "leave the toilet proper1" to mean step away from the toilet (the apparatus) or else, exit the formal toilet area (and perhaps enter the makeshift toilet)


1:

proper

strictly limited to a specified thing, place, or idea the city proper
// the city proper

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/proper

  • 6
    When I was a boy, British public toilets often had a notice by the door saying "Gentlemen: please adjust your dress". It did not suppose that men wore frocks; it was a reminder to do up one's fly. – Michael Harvey Mar 21 at 16:49
  • 57
    "Please leave the toilet proper" could be interpreted as "Please leave the place formally designated as the toilet." – TKK Mar 21 at 17:39
  • 12
    @TKK The opposite, surely. Imagine a huge building whose only function is to be a toilet block but which contains grand corridors, waiting areas and so on. The whole thing would formally designated as "the toilet[s]", but "the toilet proper" would refer to the actual lavatory. – David Richerby Mar 21 at 17:55
  • 14
    I'm having a bad day. I really needed that first paragraph. Thanks and +1. – cobaltduck Mar 21 at 18:15
  • 4
    @immibis that sounds like a bizarre inversion of "turtles all the way down" – Chris H Mar 22 at 9:01
28

Is your company in a place with a lot of French speakers? Looks like a mistranslation of propre (=clean).

  • 1
    "Veuillez laisser les toilettes proprement"?? Same issue as the English. French wouldn't use an adverb here.... – Lambie Mar 25 at 13:04
  • @Lambie In English it makes grammatical sense, but probably not the meaning intended. Take all of yourself out - don't leave an arm or a leg in there. And do it via the door. I did say mistranslation. – Bloke Down The Pub Mar 28 at 21:57
  • Company is in Germany – Mathias Bader Apr 10 at 9:16
8

Yes, it is wrong. As you can tell from the other answers, it is a bit puzzling.

The author may have been trying for one of these effects:

  1. People should put their clothing back together properly before leaving the toilet area. So a correct way of phrasing this would be; "Please adjust your clothing before leaving".

  2. People should leave the room, and especially the toilet itself clean and tidy. This could be expressed as: "Please leave the toilet clean and tidy" or "Please leave the toilet as you would wish to find it."

This is one place where liberal use of smileys is appropriate.

  • 2
    I'd agree that the notion was probably #2. Not sure where sign was. It might mean "Please leave the bathroom clean and tidy." – MaxW Mar 22 at 23:57
-2

The sentence "Please leave the toilet properly" does not mean anything.

In common English usage one would have to wonder what they are referring to regarding the word "properly". If the intention is to leave the toilet clean, or having flushed the toilet, then this should be explicity nominated. Or more generally one might put up a sign,

"Please leave the toilet clean and ready for the next person".

I hope this helps.

  • 2
    This answer is wrong. "Please leave the toilet properly" does have meaning and is a perfectly valid sentence, as other answers have demonstrated. – Andrew Leach Mar 23 at 11:09
  • Yes, it has meaning but the meaning is not something one would see in a toilet, for heaven's sake. No one directs people on proper exiting procedures for a toilet. – Lambie Mar 25 at 13:07

protected by Andrew Leach Mar 23 at 23:19

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.