Definition of serve in English:

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Pronunciation: /səːv/


[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, perform duties for, be employed by, have a job with;
obey, be obedient to, carry out the wishes of
be of service to, be of use to, help, give help to, assist, give assistance to, aid, lend a hand to, give a helping hand to, do a good turn to, make a contribution to, do one's bit for, do something for, benefit;
minister to, succour
be a member of, work on, be on, sit on, have/hold a place on, perform duties on, carry out duties on
1.1Provide (an area or group of people) with a product or service: a hospital which serves a large area of Wales
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: he had hoped to serve with the Medical Corps
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, fulfil, complete, discharge;
spend, go through
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, set out, plate up, spoon out, ladle out;
present, provide, supply, make available
2.1Present (someone) with food or drink: the cafe refused to serve him with the tea [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.
act as waiter/waitress, wait, distribute food/refreshments
North American informal sling hash, sling plates
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.
2.3chiefly British Attend to (a customer in a shop): 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, give one's attention to, attend to the requirements of, deal with, see to;
assist, help, look after, take care of
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: the court then issues the summons and serves it on your debtor
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 (the addressee) 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.
deliver to, present with, give to, hand over to, cause to accept
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, be all right, fit/fill the bill, do, answer;
be useful, serve a purpose, meet requirements, suit
4.1 [no object] Be of some specified use: the square now serves as the town’s chief car park [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, fulfil the function of, do duty as, do the work of, act as a substitute for
4.2 [with object and adverbial] Treat (someone) in a specified way: Cornish homeowners wonder if they are being fairly served
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.
treat, deal with, act towards, behave towards, conduct oneself towards, handle
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 for each point of a game: he tossed the ball up to serve [with object]: serve the ball on to 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.
5.1 (serve out) 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.
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.


1(In tennis and other racket sports) an act 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.
2Australian informal A reprimand: he would be willing to give the country a serve in an English newspaper
More example sentences
  • He suddenly turned holier-than-thou to give them a serve.
  • Be grateful that you only got a bit of a serve from your boss rather than no pay at the end of the week.
  • The opposition parties pressed their advantages home and gave Labour a strong serve in Parliament.



if my memory serves (me)

If I remember correctly: if my memory serves me, this is not the first time
More 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: she was reduced to the landlord’s daughter who served at table
More 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

(chiefly US also serve out one's time)
Hold office for the normal period: every sergeant had served his time as a constable
More 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: he is serving time in Swansea Prison
More 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 one's/its turn

Be useful or helpful: now that they have served their turn, cut some of them out suppressing his ire would hardly serve his turn at this juncture
More example sentences
  • The charges against her were preposterous and she denied them with dignity, but she had never been popular and they served their turn.
  • History throws individuals away once they have served their turn.
  • His stupidity served his turn on this occasion better than cunning would have done.

serve two masters

Take orders from two superiors or follow two conflicting or opposing principles or policies at the same time: it is never easy to serve two masters
With biblical allusion to Matt. 6:24
More 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.


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

Line breaks: serve

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