verb (used without object), served, serv·ing.

  1. to act as a servant.
  2. to wait on table, as a waiter.
  3. to offer or have a meal or refreshments available, as for patrons or guests: Come early, we’re serving at six.
  4. to offer or distribute a portion or portions of food or a beverage, as a host or hostess: It was her turn to serve at the faculty tea.
  5. to render assistance; be of use; help.
  6. to go through a term of service, do duty as a soldier, sailor, senator, juror, etc.
  7. to have definite use: This cup will serve as a sugar bowl.
  8. to answer the purpose: That will serve to explain my actions.
  9. (in tennis, badminton, handball, etc.) to put the ball or shuttlecock in play with a stroke, swing, or hit.
  10. to be favorable, suitable, or convenient, as weather or time.
  11. Ecclesiastical. to act as a server.

verb (used with object), served, serv·ing.

  1. to be in the service of; work for.
  2. to be useful or of service to; help.
  3. to go through (a term of service, imprisonment, etc.).
  4. to render active service to (a sovereign, commander, etc.).
  5. to render obedience or homage to (God, a sovereign, etc.).
  6. to perform the duties of (a position, an office, etc.): to serve his mayoralty.
  7. to answer the requirements of; suffice: This will serve our needs for the moment.
  8. to contribute to; promote: to serve a cause.
  9. to wait upon at table; act as a waiter or waitress to.
  10. to carry and distribute (portions of food or drink) to a patron or a specific table, as a waiter or waitress.
  11. to act as a host or hostess in offering (a person) a portion of food or drink: May I serve you with some tea and cake?
  12. to act as a host or hostess in offering or distributing (a portion or portions of food or drink) to another: They served tea and cake to their guests.
  13. to provide with a regular or continuous supply of something.
  14. (in tennis, badminton, handball, etc.) to put (the ball or shuttlecock) in play.
  15. to treat in a specified manner: That served him ill.
  16. Law.
    1. to make legal delivery of (a process or writ).
    2. to present (a person) with a writ.
  17. to gratify (desire, wants, needs, etc.).
  18. (of a male animal) to mate with; service.
  19. to operate or keep in action (a gun, artillery, etc.).
  20. Nautical. to wrap (a rope) tightly with small stuff, keeping the turns as close together as possible.


  1. the act, manner, or right of serving, as in tennis.


  1. serve one right, to treat one as one deserves, especially to punish justly: It will serve you right if she never speaks to you again.


  1. to be in the service of (a person)
  2. to render or be of service to (a person, cause, etc); help
  3. (in a shop) to give (customers) information about articles for sale and to hand over articles purchased
  4. (tr) to provide (guests, customers, etc) with food, drink, etcshe served her guests with cocktails
  5. to distribute or provide (food, drink, etc) for guests, customers, etcdo you serve coffee?
  6. (tr sometimes foll by up) to present (food, drink, etc) in a specified mannercauliflower served with cheese sauce
  7. (tr) to provide with a regular supply of
  8. (tr) to work actively forto serve the government
  9. (tr) to pay homage toto serve God
  10. to answer the requirements of; suitthis will serve my purpose
  11. (intr; may take an infinitive) to have a use; functionthis wood will serve to build a fire
  12. to go through (a period of service, enlistment, imprisonment, etc)
  13. (intr) (of weather, conditions, etc) to be favourable or suitable
  14. Also: service (tr) (of a male animal) to copulate with (a female animal)
  15. sport to put (the ball) into play
  16. (intr) RC Church to act as server at Mass or other services
  17. (tr) to deliver (a legal document, esp a writ or summons) to (a person)
  18. to provide (a machine, etc) with an impulse or signal for control purposes or with a continuous supply of fuel, working material, etc
  19. (tr) nautical to bind (a rope, spar, etc) with wire or fine cord to protect it from chafing, etcSee also seize (def. 8)
  20. serve a person right informal to pay a person back, esp for wrongful or foolish treatment or behaviour


  1. sport short for service 1 (def. 17)
  2. Australian a portion or helping of food or drink

v.late 12c., “to render habitual obedience to,” also “minister, give aid, give help,” from Old French servir “to do duty toward, show devotion to; set table, serve at table; offer, provide with,” from Latin servire “be a servant, be in service, be enslaved;” figuratively “be devoted; be governed by; comply with; conform; flatter,” originally “be a slave,” related to servus “slave,” perhaps from Etruscan (cf. Etruscan proper names Servi, Serve, Latinized as Servius). By c.1200 also as “to be in the service of, perform a service for; attend upon, be personal servant to; be a slave; owe allegiance to; officiate at Mass or other religious rites;” from early 13c. as “set food at table;” mid-14c. as “to wait on (customers).” From late 14c. as “treat (someone or something) in some fashion.” To serve (someone) right “to treat as he deserves” is recorded from 1580s. He no schuld neuer wondTo seruen him fro fot to hond[“Amis and Amiloun,” c.1330] Sense of “be useful, be beneficial, be suitable for a purpose or function” is from early 14c.; that of “take the place or meet the needs of, be equal to the task” is from late 14c.; that of “suffice” is from mid-15c. Meaning “render active military service” is from 1510s. Sporting sense, in tennis, badminton, etc., first recorded 1580s. Legal sense “present” (a writ, warrant,etc.), “give legal notice of” is from early 15c. n.1680s, in sports (tennis, etc.), from serve (v.). In addition to the idioms beginning with serve

  • serve a purpose
  • serve one right
  • serve time
  • serve up
  • also see:

  • break someone’s serve
  • first come, first served
  • hand to on a silver platter (serve up on a plate)
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