\ 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

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. See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The city of Detroit will continue to offer residents relief by expanding the use of seven recreation centers to serve as cooling centers for residents until the current heat advisory is lifted. Layla Mcmurtrie, Detroit Free Press, 15 June 2022 Graham then served as Joint Terminal Attack Controller in Iraq, and was selected to serve as a task force commander in a Marine antiterrorism battalion. David Lyons, Sun Sentinel, 15 June 2022 Reducing the number of driving lanes and putting in medians to serve as islands for pedestrians crossing the street also narrows roadways. Sarah Freishtat, Chicago Tribune, 15 June 2022 The program that told it to him, called LaMDA, currently has no purpose other than to serve as an object of marketing and research for its creator, a giant tech company. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, 14 June 2022 America First Policy Institute, which was started last year to serve as a think tank for Trump adherents, has the look of a Trump administration in waiting. New York Times, 14 June 2022 Humana is headquartered nearby on Main Street, and last month the university announced separate plans to open a new campus downtown to serve as home to the Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute New Vision of Health Campus. Ana Rocío Álvarez Bríñez, The Courier-Journal, 14 June 2022 The Newton School Committee is expected to decide Tuesday whether to hire a longtime Brockton educator and superintendent to serve as the interim head of the city’s school system for the coming academic year. John Hilliard,, 14 June 2022 In June of 2021, Thompson was tapped by Nancy Pelosi to serve as chair of the Jan 6 Select Committee, and now everyone knows his name. Ellen Mcgirt, Fortune, 14 June 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The gas cans will be distributed on a first-come-first-serve basis. Chicago Tribune, 8 June 2022 Families can call the day before delivery to reserve a can, and the rest is given away on a first-come, first-serve basis. Wyatte Grantham-philips, USA TODAY, 17 May 2022 According to the Reds websites, the bobbleheads will be distributed at the stadium to ticketholders on a first-come, first-serve basis when gates open 90 minutes before the game. Victoria Moorwood, The Enquirer, 4 May 2022 So try your luck at restaurants with a lot of seating or a first-come-first-serve waitlist. Annamaria Stephens, San Diego Union-Tribune, 3 May 2022 Thursday’s match against the 5-3 Trevisan was tricky, with six breaks of serve in the opening set. Liz Clarke,, 2 June 2022 The Spotify House shows are open to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis. Jessica Nicholson, Billboard, 26 May 2022 Volunteers trailing the last corral serve as pace-setters for the 18-minute mile. Channing King, The Indianapolis Star, 5 May 2022 Freeman said that keeps the ball in play, and the likelihood of winning points off a serve are very low, allowing newer players to pick up the game easily. Josh Reed, Anchorage Daily News, 4 May 2022 See More

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.

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 serven, sarven "to perform a duty, be employed, assume the role of personal attendant, be of use (of a body part), perform religious rites, provide food and drink (to people at a table), deliver (a legal writ)," borrowed from Anglo-French & Medieval Latin; Anglo-French servir, borrowed from Medieval Latin serviō, servīre, going back to Latin, "to perform duties for (a master) in the capacity of a slave, act in subservience, be at the service of," verbal derivative of servus "slave," perhaps, if the original sense was "watcher (of flocks), guardian," derivative with the nominal suffix *-u̯o-, of the Indo-European verbal base ser- "keep watch on, guard," whence, with varying ablaut and derivation, Greek (Homeric) epì…órontai "they kept watch over," Greek éphoros "watcher, overseer," phrourós "guard, watchman" (< *pro-horós), phrourā́ "guard duty," Avestan nišhauruuaiti "(s/he) keeps watch on" (from a stem *har-u̯a-), pasuš.hauruua "guarding the flock (of a dog)," harətar- "watcher, guardian"

Note: The above etymology of Latin servus "slave" is carefully argued by Helmut Rix (Die Termini der Unfreiheit in den Sprachen Alt-Italiens, Stuttgart, 1994, pp. 54-88), who rejects claims that the word is of Etruscan origin. Rix hypothesizes that between about 700 b.c. and 450 b.c., as most transhumant shepherds in the Italian peninsula came to be slaves, an agent noun meaning "flock guard" developed a secondary sense "slave," and by the time of the earliest Latin texts had largely lost its original meaning (with pāstor becoming the usual word for a shepherd—see pastor entry 1). The presumption is that Italic languages—as Indo-European languages generally—lacked a word for "slave," as slavery was an institution endemic to older Mediterranean and Middle Eastern civilizations. Note that Umbrian has a verb exemplified by the imperative seritu "(let him/her) protect!" that corresponds in form but not in sense to Latin servīre, which had been repurposed to reflect the new meaning of the noun *seru̯os. Rix hypothesizes that the Latin verb servāre "to watch over, look after" originally meant exclusively "to watch (the skies for an omen)," as a derivative of a noun *seru̯ā or *seru̯om "observation (of the skies)," and suggests that its senses expanded to cover those formerly held by the repurposed verb servīre.


derivative of serve entry 1

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Last Updated

18 Jun 2022

Cite this Entry

“Serve.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Jun. 2022.

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More Definitions for serve


\ 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)


transitive verb
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

More from Merriam-Webster on serve

Nglish: Translation of serve for Spanish Speakers

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


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