\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

slave (for), work (for)

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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

In lieu of disposable paper plates and utensils, opt for unique, vintage platters and serving dishes. Talia Abbas, SELF, "How to Throw a Laid-Back Holiday Party at Home, from the Team at A Summer Day Cafe," 6 Dec. 2018 The trend towards smaller camper vans is already prolific in Europe, where many families opt for campers that can serve both as weekend retreats and daily commuters. Megan Barber, Curbed, "Affordable pop-top transforms your van into a camper for $7K," 5 Dec. 2018 To better serve underrepresented DNA groups, 23andMe launched the Global Genetics Project in February of this year to gather more genetic data. Dieter Holger, PCWorld, "DNA testing for ancestry is more detailed for white people. Here’s why, and how it's changing," 4 Dec. 2018 In these cases, the company typically used user information supplied by the exchange and information the company could collect directly from the user to select and serve a targeted advertisement to the user. Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica, "Verizon/AOL helped advertisers track kids online, must now pay $5M fine," 4 Dec. 2018 Makarechian lured chef Leo Bongarra, the former executive chef of LA’s Sunset Tower Hotel, to run the hotel’s own all-day kitchen, Saline, which for now serves only hotel guests. Andrea Bennett, Condé Nast Traveler, "First Look: Hotel Joaquin in Laguna Beach, California," 30 Nov. 2018 Turner thinks the research produced after the Yellowstone fires of 1988 can serve as a benchmark for how forests might respond to repeated burning, and the hot and furious future that may await them. Kristen Pope, Discover Magazine, "Wildfire Engulfed Yellowstone 30 Years Ago. Its Recovery Could Predict The Future of the West," 12 Nov. 2018 The three-page note, which was written in either 1957 or 1958 when Kennedy served a senator from Massachusetts, is heading to the auction block as part of a sale of Kennedy memorabilia from RR Auction. Caroline Hallemann, Town & Country, "Jackie Kennedy's Love Letter to JFK Offers a Rare Glimpse Into Their Marriage," 29 Oct. 2018 In short, Ford envisions earning revenue from partnerships with local businesses and concert venues that serve up ads and digital coupons to riders of autonomous vehicles. Andrew J. Hawkins, The Verge, "Ford’s self-driving cars are really good, but are they good enough to win?," 15 Nov. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

On his serve, Federer lost just one point in the first set. Tom Perrotta, WSJ, "Kevin Anderson Upsets Roger Federer at Wimbledon," 11 July 2018 With Monteagudo on the serve, Coburn sliced through their defense, showcasing both power and finesse – a wall with offense. Cincinnati Enquirer,, "Matrka, Zinn take women's doubles title at The Met," 13 July 2018 The block party includes burgers and hot dogs, local craft beer, signature cocktails, games, back-to-back live music performances, soft-serve ice cream and a front row view of the Big Bay Boom fireworks display. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Carolina Gusman,, "San Diego restaurants burst 4th with Independence Day specials," 28 June 2018 Goldman held serve, but then flubbed a volley into the net in the next game to give the lead back to Newport Harbor. Sam Dodge,, "Newport Harbor’s tennis duo of Andy Myers and Josh Watkins advances to CIF round of 16," 1 June 2018 In a first set that featured seven breaks of serve, Stephens served for a one-set lead in the 10th and 12th game, but couldn’t convert the opportunity. Sandra Harwitt, miamiherald, "Sloane Stephens claims Miami Open title | Miami Herald," 31 Mar. 2018 Served atop the deep-fried dough is vanilla soft serve, a wet topping of your choice (hot fudge, anyone?), a dry topping of your choice, whipped cream and, of course, a cherry. Rianne Coale, RedEye Chicago, "20 frozen desserts to indulge in this summer in Chicago," 8 June 2017 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

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

10 Dec 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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More from Merriam-Webster on serve

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with serve

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for serve

Spanish Central: Translation of serve

Nglish: Translation of serve for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of serve for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about serve

Comments on serve

What made you want to look up serve? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a soft lustrous wool fabric with mohair

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