v. served, serv·ing, serves
1. To work for (someone) as a servant: The steward serves the king.
a. To prepare and offer (food, for example): serve tea.
b. To place food before (someone); wait on: served the guests a wonderful dinner.
a. To provide goods and services for (customers): a hotel that has served tourists at the same location for 30 years.
b. To supply (goods or services) to customers. See Usage Note at service.
4. To assist the celebrant during (Mass).
a. To meet the requirements of; suffice for: This will serve the purpose. The tent served us well in the storm.
b. To be of assistance to or promote the interests of; aid: "Both major parties today seek to serve the national interest" (John F. Kennedy).
a. To work through or complete (a period of service): served four terms in Congress.
b. To be in prison for (a period or term): served 10 years for armed robbery.
c. Sports To be removed from play for a specified period because of (a penalty).
7. To fight or undergo military service for: served the country for five years in the navy.
8. To give homage and obedience to: served God.
9. To act toward (another) in a specified way: She has served me ill.
10. To copulate with; service. Used of male animals.
a. To deliver or present (a process of the court, such as a summons or court order) in a manner prescribed by law to a person who is legally entitled to receive it or legally required to obey it.
b. To present such a process to (someone).
12. Sports To put (a ball or shuttlecock) in play, as in tennis, badminton, or jai alai.
13. To bind or whip (a rope) with fine cord or wire.
1. To be employed as a servant.
2. To do a term of duty: serve in the US Air Force; serve on a jury.
3. To act in a particular capacity: serve as a clerk.
4. To be of service or use; function: Let this incident serve as a reminder to future generations.
5. To meet requirements or needs; satisfy: a device that will serve well.
6. To wait on tables: serve at luncheon.
7. Sports To hit a ball or shuttlecock as a way of starting play in court games.
8. To assist the celebrant during Mass.
The act or right of serving in many court games.
serve up BaseballIdiom:
To pitch (a ball) over the middle of home plate, where it is likely to be hit hard.
serve (someone) right
To be deserved under the circumstances: Punish him; it will serve him right for what he has done to you.
[Middle English serven, from Old French servir, from Latin servīre, from servus, slave.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.