\ˈsərv \
served; serving

Definition of serve 

(Entry 1 of 2)

intransitive verb

1a : to be a servant

b : to do military or naval service

2 : to assist a celebrant as server at mass

3a : to be of use in a day when few people could write, seals served as signatures— Elizabeth W. King

b : to be favorable, opportune, or convenient

c : to be worthy of reliance or trust if memory serves

d : to hold an office : discharge a duty or function serve on a jury

4 : to prove adequate or satisfactory : suffice it will serve for this task

5 : to help persons to food: such as

a : to wait at table

b : to set out portions of food or drink

6 : to wait on customers

7 : to put the ball or shuttlecock in play in various games (such as tennis, volleyball, or badminton)

transitive verb

1a : to be a servant to : attend

b : to give the service and respect due to (a superior)

c : to comply with the commands or demands of : gratify

d : to give military or naval service to

e : to perform the duties of (an office or post)

2 : to act as server at (mass)

3 archaic : to pay a lover's or suitor's court to (a lady) that gentle lady, whom I love and serve— Edmund Spenser

4a : to work through (a term of service)

b : to put in (a term of imprisonment)

5a : to wait on at table

b : to bring (food) to a diner

c : present, provide usually used with up the novel served up many laughs

6a : to furnish or supply with something needed or desired

b : to wait on (a customer) in a store

c : to furnish professional service to

7a : to answer the needs of

b : to be enough for : suffice

c : to contribute or conduce to : promote

8 : to treat or act toward in a specified way he served me ill

9a : to bring to notice, deliver, or execute as required by law

b : to make legal service upon (a person named in a process)

10 of a male animal : to copulate with

11 : to wind yarn or wire tightly around (a rope or stay) for protection

12 : to provide services that benefit or help

13 : to put (the ball or shuttlecock) in play (as in tennis, volleyball, or badminton)

serve one right

: to be deserved



Definition of serve (Entry 2 of 2)

: the act or action of putting the ball or shuttlecock in play in various games (such as volleyball, badminton, or tennis) also : a turn to serve it's your serve

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Synonyms for serve

Synonyms: Verb

advantage, avail, benefit, help, profit

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Examples of serve in a Sentence


Soup was served as the first course. The waiter served our meals quickly. The restaurant serves excellent Italian food. The waiter who served us was very nice. Feel free to serve yourself at the salad bar. You carve the turkey, and I'll serve. The roast should serve six. I'm afraid all of our salespeople are serving other customers right now. What can we do to serve our customers better?


She started the game with a powerful serve.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Hevel had served in the military before becoming a police officer in 2007. Bree Burkitt, azcentral, "Former Navajo Nation police officer sentenced to 16 years in prison for fatal DUI crash," 14 July 2018 But Bolden, an Obama appointee who has served on the bench since 2014, appeared unswayed by the government’s case. Daniela Altimari,, "Judge Rules Separation of Immigrant Children Living in Connecticut From Their Parents Is Unconstitutional," 14 July 2018 Weichel, who was named to THR's Next Gen list in 2017, has also served as an executive producer on a number of her clients' projects, including film Camp Takota and YouTube Red documentary A Trip to Unicorn Island. Natalie Jarvey, The Hollywood Reporter, "Anonymous Content Taps Sarah Weichel to Lead Emerging Platforms Division (Exclusive)," 13 July 2018 Thirteen prime ministers of Britain have served the queen, starting with Winston Churchill, whom Mr. Trump has long admired. Katie Rogers, New York Times, "From Truman to Trump, Queen Elizabeth Has Met 12 U.S. Presidents," 13 July 2018 Grau has served his entire career as a member of the Florence Police Department. Cincinnati Enquirer,, "Florence names new police chief: Thomas Grau," 13 July 2018 Brooks has served on the council since 2002 and is running for re-election this fall. Kimberly Veklerov,, "Oakland to pay $2.2 million to settle ex-Black Panther’s claim," 12 July 2018 Cozzi has served on the State Universities Retirement System Board of Trustees since 2017 and was previously appointed by Rauner to the Illinois State Board of Investment. Morgan Greene,, "Rauner officiates gay wedding, social conservatives object," 12 July 2018 According to a White House bio, Kavanaugh has served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 2006., "Black Women Come Out In Droves To Protest Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh," 12 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Serena Williams has relied on the strength of her serve. Tom Perrotta, WSJ, "Serena Williams Is Making Her Toughest Comeback Look Easy," 12 July 2018 The soft serve stirs something deep within our nostalgic hearts. Ac Shilton, Outside Online, "The Best Ice Cream in the U.S.," 5 July 2018 The senior who plays for the Peurto Rican junior national team blasted the first serve of the match into the net., "Celebration storms to state boys volleyball tournament for first time," 2 May 2018 With nothing to separate the two after 12 games, the set went to a tiebreak and Federer celebrated victory at 7-5 as Del Potro's return of serve sailed long. Matias Grez, CNN, "Roger Federer loses to Juan Martin del Potro in Indian Wells final," 19 Mar. 2018 Request a scoop of soft serve in your root beer and voila—dessert! Jessica Leigh Mattern, Country Living, "12 Insanely Delicious Things You Need to Order from Chick-fil-A's Secret Menu ASAP," 23 Feb. 2018 The 20-year-old Tiafoe relied on a strong serve to win 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-3 over the Spanish veteran and reach the second round for the second straight year. Houston Chronicle, "Maria Sharapova falls in first round at Wimbledon," 3 July 2018 Plain dipped ice cream and soft-serve is $4 and $5. Michael Klein,, "Cereal and ice cream, together at Moo Moo Cereal Milk Bar," 5 July 2018 Also in Georgetown, a new donut-and-soft-serve ice cream spot, Seattle Freeze from Darren McGill and Kryse Martin-McGill who also run Central District Ice Cream Company, Nate’s Wings and Waffles and Happy Grillmore. Tan Vinh, The Seattle Times, "Loosen your belt: 46 more restaurant and ice cream openings in Seattle and on the Eastside to try," 25 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'serve.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of serve


13th century, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1a


1688, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for serve


Middle English, from Anglo-French servir, from Latin servire to be a slave, serve, from servus slave, servant

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Statistics for serve

Last Updated

15 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for serve

The first known use of serve was in the 13th century

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More Definitions for serve



English Language Learners Definition of serve

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: to give (food or drink) to someone at a meal, in a restaurant, etc.

: to give food or drink to (someone)

: to be enough food for (a particular number of people)



English Language Learners Definition of serve (Entry 2 of 2)

sports : the act or action of throwing a ball into the air and hitting it over a net to start play in tennis, volleyball, etc.


\ˈsərv \
served; serving

Kids Definition of serve

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : to help people to food or drink or set out helpings of food or drink

2 : to be of use : answer some purpose The lawn serves as our sports facility.— Lemony Snicket, The Austere Academy

3 : to be a servant

4 : to give the service and respect due serve God

5 : to be in prison for or during (a period of time)

6 : to provide helpful services Our friendly staff will serve you.

7 : to be enough for The pie will serve eight people.

8 : to hold an office : perform a duty I served as club treasurer.

9 : to perform a term of service He served in the marines.

10 : to furnish with something needed or desired There is no grocery store to serve the area.

11 : to put the ball or shuttlecock in play (as in tennis, volleyball, or badminton)

serve someone right

: to be deserved You didn't study, so if you fail the test it will serve you right.



Kids Definition of serve (Entry 2 of 2)

: an act of putting the ball or shuttlecock in play (as in tennis, volleyball, or badminton)

served; serving

Legal Definition of serve 

1 : to deliver, publish, or execute (notice or process) as required by law no notice of any such request was ever served on the husbandNational Law Journal

2 : to make legal service upon (the person named in a process) : inform or notify by legal service unless the city had been served with prior notice of a defect— Gene Mustain

3 : to put in (a term of imprisonment) has served five years of her sentence

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Comments on serve

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