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See synonyms for: serveservedserving on

verb (used without object),served, serv·ing.
  1. to act as a servant.

  2. to wait on table, as a waiter.

  1. to offer or have a meal or refreshments available, as for patrons or guests: Come early, we're serving at six.

  2. to offer or distribute a portion or portions of food or a beverage, as a host or hostess: It was her turn to serve at the faculty tea.

  3. to render assistance; be of use; help.

  4. to go through a term of service, do duty as a soldier, sailor, senator, juror, etc.

  5. to have definite use: This cup will serve as a sugar bowl.

  6. to answer the purpose: That will serve to explain my actions.

  7. (in tennis, badminton, handball, etc.) to put the ball or shuttlecock in play with a stroke, swing, or hit.

  8. to be favorable, suitable, or convenient, as weather or time.

  9. Ecclesiastical. to act as a server.

verb (used with object),served, serv·ing.
  1. to be in the service of; work for.

  2. to be useful or of service to; help.

  1. to go through (a term of service, imprisonment, etc.).

  2. to render active service to (a sovereign, commander, etc.).

  3. to render obedience or homage to (God, a sovereign, etc.).

  4. to perform the duties of (a position, an office, etc.): to serve his mayoralty.

  5. to answer the requirements of; suffice: This will serve our needs for the moment.

  6. to contribute to; promote: to serve a cause.

  7. to wait upon at table; act as a waiter or waitress to.

  8. to carry and distribute (portions of food or drink) to a patron or a specific table, as a waiter or waitress.

  9. to act as a host or hostess in offering (a person) a portion of food or drink: May I serve you with some tea and cake?

  10. to act as a host or hostess in offering or distributing (a portion or portions of food or drink) to another: They served tea and cake to their guests.

  11. to provide with a regular or continuous supply of something.

  12. (in tennis, badminton, handball, etc.) to put (the ball or shuttlecock) in play.

  13. to treat in a specified manner: That served him ill.

  14. Law.

    • to make legal delivery of (a process or writ).

    • to present (a person) with a writ.

  15. to gratify (desire, wants, needs, etc.).

  16. (of a male animal) to mate with; service.

  17. to operate or keep in action (a gun, artillery, etc.).

  18. Nautical. to wrap (a rope) tightly with small stuff, keeping the turns as close together as possible.

  1. the act, manner, or right of serving, as in tennis.

Idioms about serve

  1. serve one right, to treat one as one deserves, especially to punish justly: It will serve you right if she never speaks to you again.

Origin of serve

First recorded in 1125–75; Middle English serven, from Old French servir, from Latin servīre, equivalent to serv(us) “enslaved person” (cf. serf) + -īre, infinitive suffix

Other words for serve

Other words from serve

  • serv·a·ble, serve·a·ble, adjective
  • o·ver·serve, verb (used with object)
  • un·der·served, adjective
  • un·serv·a·ble, adjective
  • un·served, adjective
  • well-served, adjective

Words Nearby serve Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use serve in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for serve


/ (sɜːv) /

  1. to be in the service of (a person)

  2. to render or be of service to (a person, cause, etc); help

  1. (in a shop) to give (customers) information about articles for sale and to hand over articles purchased

  2. (tr) to provide (guests, customers, etc) with food, drink, etc: she served her guests with cocktails

  3. to distribute or provide (food, drink, etc) for guests, customers, etc: do you serve coffee?

  4. (tr sometimes foll by up) to present (food, drink, etc) in a specified manner: cauliflower served with cheese sauce

  5. (tr) to provide with a regular supply of

  6. (tr) to work actively for: to serve the government

  7. (tr) to pay homage to: to serve God

  8. to answer the requirements of; suit: this will serve my purpose

  9. (intr; may take an infinitive) to have a use; function: this wood will serve to build a fire

  10. to go through (a period of service, enlistment, imprisonment, etc)

  11. (intr) (of weather, conditions, etc) to be favourable or suitable

  12. Also: service (tr) (of a male animal) to copulate with (a female animal)

  13. sport to put (the ball) into play

  14. (intr) RC Church to act as server at Mass or other services

  15. (tr) to deliver (a legal document, esp a writ or summons) to (a person)

  16. to provide (a machine, etc) with an impulse or signal for control purposes or with a continuous supply of fuel, working material, etc

  17. (tr) nautical to bind (a rope, spar, etc) with wire or fine cord to protect it from chafing, etc: See also seize (def. 8)

  18. serve a person right informal to pay a person back, esp for wrongful or foolish treatment or behaviour

  1. sport short for service 1 (def. 17)

  2. Australian a portion or helping of food or drink

Origin of serve

C13: from Old French servir, from Latin servīre, from servus a slave

Derived forms of serve

  • servable or serveable, adjective

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Other Idioms and Phrases with serve


In addition to the idioms beginning with serve

  • serve a purpose
  • serve one right
  • serve time
  • serve up

also see:

  • break someone's serve
  • first come, first served
  • hand to on a silver platter (serve up on a plate)

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.