Definition of serve in English:

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Pronunciation: /sərv/


[with object]
1Perform duties or services for (another person or an organization): Malcolm has served the church very faithfully
More example sentences
  • You are out there supporting and serving your professional organization.
  • He served these organizations for some 23 years till his retirement in March 1996.
  • I will continue to serve this organization with all my energy, wisdom, and passion as I have done in the past.
work for, be in the service of, be employed by;
be of service to, be of use to, help, assist, aid, make a contribution to, do one's bit for, do something for, benefit
be a member of, work on, be on, sit on, have a place on
1.1Provide (an area or group of people) with a product or service: a telecommunications company that serves southern New England
More example sentences
  • The basic initial idea is to have small buses, serving local areas providing daytime services to those most needing them.
  • Would it be better to have a team of priests in a central house serving a group of parishes?
  • As a market hall serving a bustling group of traders and agricultural merchants, it must have been perfect for the job.
1.2 [no object] Be employed as a member of the armed forces: a military engineer who served with the army
More example sentences
  • He passed this pride on to his children who he encouraged to serve in the Armed Forces.
  • During his career he served mostly with Army Special Forces, known as the Green Berets.
  • You would be proud of the Soldiers serving in the Army.
1.3Spend (a period) in office, in an apprenticeship, or in prison: he is serving a ten-year jail sentence
More example sentences
  • He is still liable to serve ten years in prison for traces of heroin in a needle found at his house.
  • And after serving a prison term for committing a financial crime, he convinced the prison librarian to move with him to his hometown.
  • These resisters are arrested, tried, and often sentenced to serve long terms in prison and jail.
carry out, perform, do, fulfill, complete, discharge;
2Present (food or drink) to someone: they serve wine instead of beer serve white wines chilled
More example sentences
  • Isabelle received a cup of wine from a man serving drinks.
  • The working committee thank all who came and those who prepared the food and served the tea.
  • There are countless jobs and professions that are far more dangerous than serving food or drink in the presence of secondhand smoke.
dish up/out, give out, distribute;
present, provide, supply
2.1Present (someone) with food or drink: I’ll serve you with coffee and cake [with two objects]: Peter served them generous portions of soup
More example sentences
  • It is also customary to serve people food and drink when they visit a home.
  • A group of women were surrounding him, serving him food and drinks.
  • The guy waited till he had served me the drinks, told me it was fine to run up a tab, took my credit card, and then told me that the kitchen wasn't opening for another forty minutes.
2.2(Of food or drink) be enough for: the recipe serves four people
More example sentences
  • This recipe makes enough to serve four as a main course, more as a side dish.
  • Thai food is significantly less meat-intensive than American, and half a pound of meat is enough to serve four.
2.3Attend to (a customer in a store): she turned to serve the impatient customer
More example sentences
  • Called Serenade, the Victoria Road shop was serving its first customers today.
  • The shop served its last customers on Friday after being based on Newmarket Street for more than 17 years.
  • Mark, Andrew and Esther were in the shop front, serving customers.
attend to, deal with, see to;
assist, help, look after
2.4Supply (goods) to a customer.
2.5 [no object] Christian Church Act as a server at the celebration of the Eucharist.
2.6 [with two objects] archaic Play (a trick) on (someone): I remember the trick you served me
3 Law Deliver (a document such as a summons or writ) in a formal manner to the person to whom it is addressed: a warrant was served on Jack Sherman
More example sentences
  • Writs were served on 30 councillors, who were jailed for their pains in September 1921.
  • He said the minister would be seeking quashing of the arrest warrant against him on the ground that no summons were served on him.
  • Empanelling a grand jury empowers prosecutors both to serve subpoenas, and to gather testimony under oath.
3.1Deliver a document to (someone) in a formal manner: they were just about to serve him with a writ
More example sentences
  • While defendant was in custody awaiting an extradition hearing he was served with the Complaint herein.
  • When the breath tests were completed, he was served with the appropriate documentation and released on a promise to appear.
  • As a consequence, the police were unable to locate him to serve him with a subpoena.
present with, deliver to, give (to), hand over to
4Be of use in achieving or satisfying: this book will serve a useful purpose the union came into existence to serve the interests of musicians
More example sentences
  • Also, officers have the added functions of setting goals and inspiring others to achieve them to serve this purpose.
  • They do not satisfy hunger and serve no purpose other than to make the companies that make them wealthy.
  • I don't think he serves any useful purpose for the Democrats.
suffice, be adequate, be good enough, fit/fill the bill, do, answer, be useful, meet requirements, suit
4.1 [no object] Be of some specified use: the island’s one pub serves as a cafe by day [with infinitive]: sweat serves to cool down the body
More example sentences
  • A sheet of red outdoor fabric serves as the roof.
  • Elastomer and fabric device serves as both a seal and a filter.
  • However, it just so happens that a human being standing on the ground near the object serves as a perfectly good conductor as well.
act as, function as, do the work of, be a substitute for
4.2Function for or treat (someone) in a specified way: the strategy served him well
More example sentences
  • Facts that did not serve him were treated like unruly underlings.
  • Which are you - do you take the plunge, or do you play it safe, and does your strategy serve you well?
  • The strategy of deterrence which served us so well during the decades of the Cold War will no longer do.
4.3(Of a male breeding-animal) copulate with (a female).
5 [no object] (In tennis and other racket sports) hit the ball or shuttlecock to begin play: he tossed the ball up to serve [with object]: serve the ball onto the front wall
More example sentences
  • Everyone fell silent though when the prince raised his racket and ball to serve.
  • The players exchange words at the beginning of the game as Scott accuses his opponent of failing to tell him he was serving with new balls in the previous game.
  • Before serving in the final game, Pierce had a trainer apply treatment and massage her aching shoulder.
6 Nautical Bind (a rope) with thin cord to protect or strengthen it.
7 Military Operate (a gun): before long Lodge was the only man in his section able to serve the guns
More example sentences
  • It was even said that she carried hot coffee to all the officers and then carried more hot coffee in pails to the artilleryman serving the guns.


(In tennis and other racket sports) an act or turn of hitting the ball or shuttlecock to start play: he was let down by an erratic serve
More example sentences
  • In pro tennis serves can sometimes reach speeds over 209 kph, or 185 feet per second.
  • With the big serves in today's tennis, I'm not sure this match will ever be equalled.
  • In fact, he conceded only 12 points on his serve in nine service games.



if my memory serves me

If I remember correctly.
Example sentences
  • Recently I recall a player going to the courts to seek justice for a severe injury (a broken jaw if my memory serves me correctly) he received in a Gaelic football match.
  • At 62 she rarely betrayed her age and, if my memory serves me correctly, she performed a number of encores to thank the very enthusiastic audience.
  • It was passed by State Parliament and if my memory serves me correctly the coalition opposition supported the bill.

serve at table

Act as a waiter.
Example sentences
  • French waiters are highly trained in the art of serving at table, but sometimes customers would happily settle for less expertise - if only there were more of them so that they didn't have to wait so long to be served.
  • He was not a factor but ‘was employed as a footman in livery and served at table and occasionally dressed and took care of his Masters Horses.’
  • They were served at table by a disciplined army of girls.

serve someone right

Be someone’s deserved punishment or misfortune: it would serve you right if Jeff walked out on you
More example sentences
  • If you're dumb enough to walk into a sign it serves you right, you do not deserve money.
  • I had a head under the covers morning, following on and serving me right for my festive over-indulgence at dinner last night.
  • It serves them right for charging a ridiculous amount to park and for not ensuring the safety of our cars.

serve one's time

(also serve out one's time) Hold office for the normal period.
Example sentences
  • If he is not in death row and he's serving out his time in a maximum-security prison, he will be afforded special treatment, if you will.
  • There are new questions about the military's policy for calling up troops who have already served their time.
  • If he really served his time in the National Guard during the Vietnam War, he could easily prove it.
(also serve time) 4.1 Spend time in office, in an apprenticeship, or in prison.
Example sentences
  • You will never see me on the front lines - I am in complete moral opposition to war, and would rather serve time in prison than spend time with a rifle.
  • They were sentenced to 15 months, but given a suspended sentence, which means they didn't have to serve time in prison.
  • They finally tracked him down to an English prison where he was serving time for a similar crime but under a false name.

serve two masters

Take orders from two superiors or follow two conflicting or opposing principles or policies at the same time.
With biblical allusion to Matt. 6:24
Example sentences
  • But that's exactly what's happening because of a gargantuan conflict of interest: The giant mutual funds are serving two masters.
  • It is law layered with politics, which, as a lawyer, I can tell you is the worst kind of fact situation you can find, because you end up serving two masters and it's almost an impossible situation.
  • You have to serve two masters: the president of the United States, and you also try to help the Washington press corps do its job.

Phrasal verbs

serve out

Tennis Win the final game of a set or match while serving: Fitzgerald then served out for the set
More example sentences
  • Safin made the crucial break at 4-4 in the final set, and served out the next game to clinch the match.
  • He served out the final game at love, hitting a 119 mph second serve for a winner on match point.
  • Davenport slammed three winners to serve out the final game for the win.


Middle English: from Old French servir, from Latin servire, from servus 'slave'.

Words that rhyme with serve

conserve, curve, Deneuve, derv, hors d'oeuvre, nerve, observe, roman-fleuve, subserve, swerve, verve

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: serve

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