\ 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

The server keeps the serve until the point is lost; the first team to achieve 11 points wins. Gary Gibula, Naperville Sun, "Naperville answering demand for pickleball with new courts at Nike Complex, Southwest Park," 14 July 2018 Lopez became a Charter Club Lion in the new San Marcos Lions Club in 1983 and served as Secretary for the first Board of Directors. Linda Mcintosh,, "Lions Club member receives fellowship award news," 14 July 2018 There are around 3,500 other people in the federal system serving a life-without-parole sentence, for first-time, non-violent drug offenses, which is just a crazy amount of people for something that could be so minor as the possession of marijuana. Abby Gardner, Glamour, "How a Former Glamour College Woman of the Year Helped Break the Alice Johnson Story," 13 July 2018 But even those moments of silliness and bad faith arguments served a higher purpose. Jeet Heer, The New Republic, "The Washington Post worries Strzok hearings were bad for democracy.," 13 July 2018 Patterson currently serves on the town pension board. Jesse Leavenworth, Courant Community, "New Manchester School Board Member To Serve Rest Of Leon's Term," 13 July 2018 Add 4-5 ice cubes to serving glass, pour in mocktail, and garnish with fresh cilantro and a mini chili pepper., "6 Mocktail Recipes That Make Happy Hour Way Healthier," 12 July 2018 Ely Portillo Cagle said the new gates — which will serve non-American Airlines carriers, including JetBlue, United Airlines, Southwest, Frontier and Air Canada — will start relieving congestion immediately. Ely Portillo, charlotteobserver, "Charlotte’s airport manages ‘tricky balance’ between low-cost hub and fancy new gates," 12 July 2018 Effective today, Officer Patrick Connor no longer serves in the police department of the Forest Preserves of Cook County. CBS News, "Officer resigns after video shows him not stepping in when woman in Puerto Rico shirt is harassed," 11 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

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 Soft serve: Dairy Queen and Carvel both lay claim to inventing soft serve in the 1930s. Jon Gorey,, "A cold war: Which is better, hard or soft-serve ice cream?," 14 June 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., "Digest (July 3): Riverdale's Frances Tiafoe survives four-set match at Wimbledon," 3 July 2018 Tennis pro Rosie Casals races to reach a serve by Kerry Nelville in their match in the Virginia Slims Tennis Tournament here 4/26. Raisa Bruner, Time, "Why Wimbledon Players Have to Wear All White," 2 July 2018 Solve both problems by dividing your leftovers into single-serve portions and freezing them in storage containers or bags, suggests Molly Devine, RD, founder of Eat Your Keto and advisor to KetoLogic. Krissy Brady,, "9 Ways to Make Healthier Food Choices—Even When You're Exhausted," 21 June 2018 Halep broke Dodin's serve for the seventh time at 4-4 in the third set before closing it out., "Giants trade Jason Pierre-Paul to Buccaneers," 23 Mar. 2018 Isner has now won five rounds without getting his serve broken. Jon Wertheim,, "Four Thoughts From Four Quarterfinals: Rafa-Djokovic to Meet, Federer Upset," 11 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

17 Sep 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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