serve - definition and synonyms


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present tense
present participleserving
past tenseserved
past participleserved
  1. 1
    [intransitive/transitive] to provide food and drink for someone to eat at a meal

    A light meal will be served during the flight.

    serve something with something:

    All dishes are served with a salad.

    serve something to someone:

    A complimentary afternoon tea is served to all guests.

    serve breakfast/lunch/dinner etc:

    Dinner is served between 7 and 10 pm.

    serve someone with something:

    The waiter served them both with salmon poached in white wine.

    serve someone something:

    Carolyn served them tea and cake in the garden.

    serve something hot/cold etc:

    The cheese is best served at room temperature.

    1. a.



      serve out


      serve up

      [intransitive/transitive] to put food onto a plate for someone
    2. b.
      [transitive] to be enough food for a particular number of people

      The recipe serves four as a light lunch.

  2. 2
    [intransitive/transitive] to do a job or to perform duties for a person or organization

    He served more than 20 years in the army.

    Frank has served this company his whole working life.

    serve as:

    Mr Russell served as president of the Association for fifteen years.

    serve on:

    Henry served on numerous committees and commissions.

    serve in:

    I met my wife, Rachel, while serving in the Royal Navy.

    serve an apprenticeship (=a period of training):

    Sylvie served her apprenticeship with a top Paris designer.

  3. 3
    [intransitive/transitive] to be used for a particular purpose, especially not the main or original purpose
    serve as:

    Their spare room also serves as an office.

    serve as a reminder/warning:

    The decision should serve as a warning to companies that pollute the environment.

    serve to remind/illustrate/emphasize/strengthen:

    His death serves to remind us just how dangerous using drugs can be.

  4. 4
    [transitive] to help to achieve something
    serve a purpose:

    That’s a stupid rule. What purpose is it supposed to serve?

    serve someone’s interests:

    They voted for a chairman who might better serve their interests.

    serve someone well:

    His ability to get on with people served him well in setting up his own business.

     Synonyms and related words
  5. 5
    [transitive] to spend time in prison
    serve time:

    She served time in Holloway for assaulting a police officer.

    serve a sentence:

    He’s serving a life sentence for murder.

  6. 6
    [transitive] to provide a group of people or an area with something useful

    These gas pipes serve the whole area.

    serve the needs of:

    a new hospital to serve the needs of the local community

  7. 7
    [intransitive/transitive] to help customers to buy goods in a shop, especially by bringing them things or helping them to choose what they need
  8. 8
    [transitive] legal to officially give someone a legal document that orders them to do something
    serve someone with something:

    She was served with a summons to appear in court.

    serve something on/upon someone:

    The notice must be served upon the tenant and include a legal description of the breach they have committed.

  9. 9
    [intransitive/transitive] to hit a ball to your opponent in order to start playing for a point in a game such as tennis

phrasal verbs