\ ˈsərv How to pronounce serve (audio) \
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

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Examples of serve in a Sentence

Verb 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? Noun She started the game with a powerful serve.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Friday’s announcement by the White House said Graham would serve as assistant secretary for legislation and congressional affairs at the Department of Education., "Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham tapped by Biden administration for key education position," 16 Apr. 2021 The Washington Post spoke with several Hollywood insiders who noted that although the ceremony itself may be just a fun party, the Academy Awards still serve a few explicit purposes. Sonia Rao, Washington Post, "Why do the Oscars matter?," 16 Apr. 2021 Chandra argues that a federal agency should serve as a guaranteed buyer of vaccines, therapies, tests, and emergency medical supplies for possible pandemic-causing viruses. Dhruv Khullar, The New Yorker, "What Will It Take to Pandemic-Proof America?," 15 Apr. 2021 Over the past few years, there has been an emerging body of evidence that psylocybin, or the active compound in magic mushrooms, could serve as a potentially effective treatment for major depressive disorder. Ej Dickson, Rolling Stone, "Could Psilocybin Be as Effective as Antidepressants?," 15 Apr. 2021 Jackson Lee asked her Republican colleagues to put politics aside and acknowledge that the commission would serve as a form of closure that Black Americans and the country need after generations of discrimination and disparities. Marianna Sotomayor, Anchorage Daily News, "House committee approves bill to create commission on slavery reparations," 15 Apr. 2021 Many Democrats have come to believe that foreign policy should serve domestic economic and political goals far more heavily than in the past. Lisa Lerer, New York Times, "How the G.O.P. Lost Its Clear Voice on Foreign Policy," 15 Apr. 2021 The mostly low-income, Latino and Black neighborhoods that the program will serve have been hit hard by COVID-19’s health and economic effects, reflecting racial inequalities the pandemic has worsened. Andrew Khouri, Los Angeles Times, "Can money from Silicon Valley save low-cost housing in South L.A.?," 15 Apr. 2021 Biden also said, however, that criminal justice is was not the only policy area of concern, arguing that addressing economic inequities would better serve Black Americans in the long term. Matthew Brown, USA TODAY, "'This has been a tough week': Black lawmakers discuss racial inequities, COVID with Biden," 14 Apr. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Ice cream eaters will also find an outdoor patio and exclusive items, including soft serve with mix-ins, called Rainbow Mixers, and more vegan sorbet flavors. Louisa Chu,, "The Original Rainbow Cone, a 95-year-old Chicago legend, is opening its 1st suburban shop in Lombard," 14 Apr. 2021 The restaurant also serves Mary’s Free-Range Rotisserie Chicken from a premium open-flame Rotisol Rotisserie, as well as organic soft-serve ice cream from the North Bay’s Straus Family Creamery. Chelsea Davis, Forbes, "Little Original Joe’s Brings Unpretentious Italian-American Fare To San Francisco’s West Portal Neighborhood," 11 Apr. 2021 For dessert, guests can cool off by eating housemade soft-serve with flavors like fior di latte and dark chocolate. Andy Wang, Robb Report, "Exclusive: A First Look at the Restaurant Bringing New York-Style Pizza With an Artisanal Twist to LA," 30 Mar. 2021 Sometimes that’s a big, crunchy salad with lots of fresh lemon, and sometimes that’s a cone of soft serve (vanilla and chocolate swirl please because life is too short to choose one or the other). Washington Post, "Crush some chips into your fish cakes: Eating healthy doesn’t have to mean being fat-phobic," 30 Mar. 2021 From soft-serve ice cream to savory waffles, here's a rundown of the greatest hits from Rick Nelson's dining diary over the past seven days. Matt Delong, Star Tribune, "TALKERS032621," 26 Mar. 2021 And for those who already took the plunge on the soft-serve mullet cut (one of the first big trends for 2021), this is a great way to get more creative with it. Michella Oré, Allure, "The Two-Toned Mullet Is Spring 2021's Coolest Hair Color Trend," 25 Mar. 2021 Inspired by the Slurpee machines at 7-Eleven, Martinez fashioned a frozen margarita maker out of a soft-serve machine, and the rest is history. Alex Beggs, Bon Appétit, "You’d Never Guess These Food Brands Are 50 Years Old," 23 Mar. 2021 With 101 different soft serve flavors, bumper boats and a 30-foot climbing wall, Bumpy’s Polar Freeze was something of a summertime institution for decades in Schenectady, New York. Aaron Katersky, ABC News, "New York attorney general sues ex-business owner for alleged racist acts against protesters," 10 Mar. 2021

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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Time Traveler for serve

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for serve

Last Updated

18 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Serve.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Apr. 2021.

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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 How to pronounce serve (audio) \
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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