“En suite”

Walking around in a hipsterish area of Brooklyn over the weekend, I came upon this sign:


What caught my eye was the word “ensuite.” I had come across it — usually as two words, “en suite” — in Britain and Australia, meaning, I believe, that a bathroom is included in a hotel room or some other accommodation.

Research pretty much confirmed my impression. The OED shows a not-surprising progression of the meaning put to the phrase, starting with what I take to be a pretty literal translation from the French: “So as to form (part of) a set, group, or suite.” (“Match-box, stamp-box, and paper-knife, all en suite,” 1862.) In the late eighteenth century, it started to be used to refer to a set of connected rooms; then, crucially (as in the Brooklyn sign), to a bathroom connected to another room. The first such citation is from Canadian Railway and Marine World, in 1925: “Abaft the en suite rooms there is a state room with a single bed, armchair and wardrobe, and an en suite bath room and w.c.” (“Abaft” is a nautical term meaning “behind.”)

The final stage (so far) is “en suite” as a noun referring to the bathroom in question. That shows up in 1968, in an ad in the Canberra (Australia) Times: “Home suitable for a large family, 4 large bedrooms, en-suite off master, panelled study, large kitchen and dining room.”

All of the bathroom-related citations in the OED are from British, Irish, Australian, or Canadian sources. Google Ngram Viewer suggests “en suite” took off in Britain in the 1980s, presumably as a real-estate buzz phrase, which makes sense, given that bathrooms would be the sweet spot for a Frenchified fancy euphemism:

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The Corpus of Global Web-Based English, charting billions of words from the early 2010s, shows Ireland (especially) and Britain as heavy “en suite” users, with Canada and Australia lagging behind with the United States.

Screen Shot 2020-02-25 at 9.09.11 AM

But “en suite” has hit the U.S., and not just in Brooklyn. In February 2020 alone, the phrase was used in nine articles in the New York Times Real Estate section, including this referring to a $2 million house for sale in Fairfax, California: “The en suite bathroom has a walk-in shower as well as a separate soaking tub.” Beyond real estate, a February 12 Times review of the movie Swallow notes of a character, “She was a retail worker who bagged a rich man. Bearing his child is just another privilege, like en suite bathrooms or the latest iPhone.”



32 thoughts on ““En suite”

  1. Well spotted, as Brits might say. This is one my Brit wife says all the time but I’ve never used and can’t even really get my head around to know how to use. And I’ve never seen it or heard it in American, so good catch, as Americans might say.

      1. The smiley face indicates you might be joking but (in any case) “good catch” has three meanings in the U.S., all common: 1, a baseball “well done” to a fielder; 2, a desirable romantic partner; and 3, as David uses it, noticing something (often a mistake) that could easily have slipped by.

      2. Well, I was being ironic (but Americans supposedly can’t detect irony, he said ironically).
        But you are as liable to hear “good catch” in a cricket commentary as a baseball one. I watch both.

  2. The phrase, “en-suite off master ” from the estate agent ad. doesn’t look like a noun to me, it looks more like a deliberate omission to keep the word count down which was always a concern with small ads in the press. The way that it’s written also makes me think it might have been a free ad. which some papers used to run and they usually had to be very short. I should think the writer expected the original readers to read it as, “en-suite bathroom off master bedroom”. Mind you it _is_ Australian and our antipodean cousins are notoriously… inventive in their use of the language. 🙂

    1. I agree with Lurk – that use of “en-suite” in the Australian source isn’t a noun, that’s just an example of the terse “telegraphese” that used to be common in classified ads.

  3. As I recall, some “posh” people would have both a suite in their lounge (or, perhaps, their living room) and en suite in their bedroom.

    Of course, I was more interested in the quarter of sweets and the sweet course.

    1. I would say the phrase is more a lower middle class expression, for people who aspire to be posh, but don’t quite get it.

      1. Indeed, that was the intention of my double-quotes. It’s very Beverly Moss
        or Hyacinth Bucket. There’s nothing worse than lower-middle class climbers, as they say.

      2. I doubt that the very posh surveyors Knight Frank would like to be described as lower middle class. To quote from some of their recent London property particulars – ‘On the first floor there is the master suite with two dressing rooms and large en suite bathroom, and two further bedrooms both with en suite bathrooms.’

    2. People described as “posh” by others would use “smart” rather than “posh”. They would expect to have a sufficient number of bathrooms and dressing rooms in a house for an “en-suite” to be unnecessary. So yes, definitely a term used by aspirational lower-middle class types.

      1. “Posh” can also be used with a sense of irony. I think things have become more subtly humorous than in Nancy Mitford’s day.

  4. If it’s appearing in U.S. English, that makes me wonder why. Is it plugging a lexical gap? How would the concept have been expressed before? Or, in U.S. terms, did it go without saying that any bedroom would have its own private bathroom?

    1. I think the term in U.S. real estate lingo would be “master bath,” meaning a bathroom connected to the master bedroom. Of course, by definition there can be only one master bedroom and one master bathroom (right?), hence the need for “en suite.”

      1. In U.S. real estate lingo, the term “master” is being eliminated entirely for mostly ignorant reasons, but that is neither here nor there.

        Assuming -for the sake of discussion- the term “master suite” to communicate a shared understanding of “the best suite in the house”, there are a growing number(I can’t think of a better way to describe; they aren’t “numerous” but they are not “few”) of multi-generational houses built with multiple masters. This would typically be encountered when a younger family decides to build a home and plan on housing an aging parent. This extra suite would previously have been called an “in-law suite” but in the current multi-generational economics, the “in-law” is usually footing enough of the bill for building the house that diminishing their status could be seen as offensive. In such instances, my preferred reference is to eliminate the “master suite” from that house’s layout and refer to both “master suites” as “state rooms.”

    2. No, any bedroom would definitely not have had a private bathroom. An en suite bathroom could alternately be referred to in American English as a “private bathroom” – or in realtor-speak, more likely as “private bath”

      1. Though in the UK, a “private bathroom” implies it’s not en suite. If staying at a B&B or smaller/older hotels, rooms can have access to a shared bathroom, a private bathroom (you have to go out of your room to get to it, but have exclusive use of it), or en suite bathroom. How are these referred to in the US if “en suite” isn’t used? I always assumed it was in use over there as well!

      2. Jolin, I have never encountered the “private bathroom” situation in a U.S. hotel. If there’s a shared bathroom, that would be indicated. And the “en suite” situation is the default, so doesn’t have to be specified.

  5. PS: We have two ensuite bathrooms (out of five bedrooms). Nowadays, newly built houses try to have 66% en suite, as far as I can see, i.e. only three bedrooms, but two of them with their own bathrooms.

  6. As an Australian, I can confirm that “en suite” is a noun here. It may have started as an adjective, as in “en suite bathroom”, but the “bathroom” is not required now. “Does the house have an en suite?” “The en suite doesn’t have a door.” Perfectly understandable everyday language, not telegraphese.

  7. En suite is also a noun in Canada and has been for at least the last thirty years. People do refer to “master bedrooms” – although not as much as they used to – but I have never heard anyone say “master bath”. To easy to trip on that one.

  8. As someone who’s recently spent way too much time looking at Australian houses, I can confirm that en suite doesn’t have the word bathroom attached to it that often anymore – it is assumed.

    And I wouldn’t have thought of using en suite for a hotel bathroom, and now I wonder why. Maybe because en suite implies that only part of the house has access to it, and hotel room is treated as one unit? Not sure.

    1. I can certainly remember staying in hotels where the bathroom was down the corridor from the hotel room and shared by several rooms on the floor. Then it was common for hotels to advertise that their rooms had en suite bathrooms.

      (And, for Americans, don’t forget that a bathroom in the UK sometimes only has a bath in it, and no toilet. Although I think an en suite bathroom would probably have a toilet.)

  9. En suite means you can’t get to it except via the bedroom which ‘owns’ it.That’s the vital distinction. When I owned a big house we put in five bathrooms: one downstairs on the ground floor for general use, one en-suite to the master bedroom (my wife’s of course), one next to my bedroom, for my use but not en suite (it was accessed from the first-floor hall outside my room), one on the top floor for the guest rooms, and (this may be novel to some readers) a ‘Jack and Jill’ bathroom between the two children’s bedrooms, with two doors and two locks so that the current occupant could stay private. (NB: floors are counted from zero in the above in accordance with English usage 😉

  10. I came across this site by chance, as I am studying French and like to trace etymological threads. The interesting fact which started me off on this expression, was that the French don’t themselves use it! (They say: salle de bain attenante – I think I prefer the English :-))

  11. I never gave too much thought to this, except in the moments when I would hear someone use the description “en suite.” I, for one, never assumed that it was a loaned term of French origin, but was merely a pretentious, neologistic hyperforeignism used for houses which do not have an actual enfilade. Marketers would instead refer to the “spacious master suite” as an “en-suite.”

    The more I heard the term in reference to houses which could make absolutely no substantive claim at having a “proper enfilade”, the more I wondered exactly why run-of-the-mill suites were being referred to as “en-suites.”

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