Definition of serve in English:



[with object]
  • 1Perform duties or services for (another person or an organization)

    ‘Malcolm has served the church very faithfully’
    • ‘He had previously served the club as a goalkeeper and then centre forward for ten years.’
    • ‘You are out there supporting and serving your professional organization.’
    • ‘I once served on a social committee and it was always hard organising things to make people happy.’
    • ‘He served these organizations for some 23 years till his retirement in March 1996.’
    • ‘Further, he was a career professional, dedicated to serving Johnson.’
    • ‘He has served with distinction for some years as the head of the Federal Reserve.’
    • ‘For now, she continues with her ministerial duties, serving the church she sees as part of her family.’
    • ‘The tale takes place 500 years ago and begins in the house of a Novgorod merchant, where horseman Antti and his wife Anne are serving their master.’
    • ‘Advisory Editors currently serving on the board are listed on the masthead.’
    • ‘It's bad enough that they spend their lives serving us, but now, they have to die at our bidding, too?’
    • ‘The girl grew up to be a well-behaved young lady, and when she was old enough, she served her father with all her heart and soul.’
    • ‘And he even once served on the board of the New York Stock Exchange.’
    • ‘Ever since then he has served the group in various capacities.’
    • ‘Recently a priest who had served for years as an official in the chancery office was ordained an auxiliary bishop.’
    • ‘I will continue to serve this organization with all my energy, wisdom, and passion as I have done in the past.’
    • ‘And even though I was young I had already pledged my life to serving that woman, my duty was complete obedience to her.’
    work for, be in the service of, perform duties for, be employed by, have a job with
    be of service to, be of use to, help, give help to, assist, give assistance to, aid, lend a hand to, give a helping hand to, do a good turn to, make a contribution to, do one's bit for, do something for, benefit
    be a member of, work on, be on, sit on, have a place on, hold a place on, perform duties on, carry out duties on
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 Provide (an area or group of people) with a product or service.
      ‘a hospital which serves a large area of Wales’
      • ‘As a market hall serving a bustling group of traders and agricultural merchants, it must have been perfect for the job.’
      • ‘The area is served by 28 branches which, according to the company, is too many chasing too few customers.’
      • ‘They have provided and maintained a fleet of 160 ambulances that serve remote areas of the Chernobyl region.’
      • ‘Would it be better to have a team of priests in a central house serving a group of parishes?’
      • ‘The firm, which has a network of branches in the area served by the hospice, is paying for a crucial element of the appeal.’
      • ‘We wanted something that would serve every age group.’
      • ‘The Barbican is the only pool on the south side of York that is within walking distance of the city centre and Yearsley serves a wide area.’
      • ‘He said the system had functioned well in the past and did not serve any specific group.’
      • ‘The basic initial idea is to have small buses, serving local areas providing daytime services to those most needing them.’
      • ‘The chosen route linked central London to Docklands by heading south of the Thames into areas previously poorly served by underground services.’
      • ‘This scheme serves an area which stretches to a radius of 10 miles outside Claremorris.’
      • ‘Besides Hong Kong and Shenzhen, the area is served by airports in Macao and Zhuhai.’
      • ‘If you value the land-grant tradition, and we do, we know we need to serve that group of consumers.’
      • ‘Are there agencies in the community that also serve complementary groups?’
      • ‘The area is currently served by 28 branches which, according to company bosses, is too many to survive.’
      • ‘Its retail sector serves an area that extends for miles on either side of the Strait.’
      • ‘Paddy employees over 30 people from the local area and with their expertise, they serve sites all over Ireland.’
      • ‘Different laboratory test menus may be needed in different locales to properly serve the ethnic groups in the community.’
      • ‘They compared the locations with the current spread of population and realised that some areas were not served as well as they should be.’
      • ‘These managers are starting to look at how much it will cost to serve a group of farmers.’
      provide for, oblige, meet the needs of, meet the wants of, accommodate, entertain, receive
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2no object Be employed as a member of the armed forces.
      ‘he had hoped to serve with the Medical Corps’
      • ‘She's also serving with the Army Reserve's 444th Quartermaster Company in Sioux City.’
      • ‘He left the Army in 1945 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, having served with the Infantry, Engineers and Gunners.’
      • ‘Both men served honorably in the armed forces during World War II.’
      • ‘While men remain the majority in the military, women too are serving with distinction.’
      • ‘You would be proud of the Soldiers serving in the Army.’
      • ‘Members of the military who are serving outside the USA or Puerto Rico, but who aren't in a combat zone, have until June 15 to file their taxes.’
      • ‘For these reasons, youth are less and less inclined to serve in the military.’
      • ‘They should be standard issue for all of our troops serving overseas.’
      • ‘He served in the army for two years before joining his father in practice.’
      • ‘He passed this pride on to his children who he encouraged to serve in the Armed Forces.’
      • ‘During his career he served mostly with Army Special Forces, known as the Green Berets.’
      • ‘There is a widening difference in values and perspectives between Americans serving in our armed forces, including the Army, and the society they serve.’
      • ‘I'm a former enlisted sailor serving with the U.S. Army.’
      • ‘He has previous military experience, having served with the French Foreign Legion.’
      • ‘He served with distinction in the Mexican war and was promoted captain in 1856.’
      • ‘Gay men and lesbian women have served honorably in the military since our founding.’
      • ‘A young New Zealand soldier serving overseas writes to his family.’
      • ‘They served in the armies of France and Spain as well as of Britain.’
      • ‘Some 15,904 African-American officers are now serving in the military.’
      • ‘But each time, your employer supported you and made it easy for you to serve in the Army Reserve.’
    3. 1.3 Spend (a period) in office, in an apprenticeship, or in prison.
      ‘he is serving a ten-year jail sentence’
      • ‘He retired from the Army in 1977 after serving 20 years on active duty.’
      • ‘If he is recalled to prison he will inevitably serve a greater period in custody than the original tariff.’
      • ‘He has had a number of brushes with the law over the years and has also served custodial sentences.’
      • ‘He is currently serving a prison sentence for his role in the embassy bombings.’
      • ‘He is still liable to serve ten years in prison for traces of heroin in a needle found at his house.’
      • ‘Some of those sentenced to home detention would have been serving short periods of imprisonment for less serious offences.’
      • ‘He was sentenced to five years and six months jail, and he served three years and nine months.’
      • ‘However, I felt that serving a prison term was better than living with him and the abuse.’
      • ‘He is now out of prison, having served three years.’
      • ‘He served a year in prison - including eight months in solitary confinement.’
      • ‘They spoke openly about their prognosis when they realised they would have to serve eight months in prison.’
      • ‘These resisters are arrested, tried, and often sentenced to serve long terms in prison and jail.’
      • ‘By then he was serving another prison term for snatching a bag from another woman.’
      • ‘She was appealing against the sentence after magistrates ordered her to serve one day in prison for the theft and then complete the rest of her sentence for robbery.’
      • ‘And after serving a prison term for committing a financial crime, he convinced the prison librarian to move with him to his hometown.’
      • ‘He was told he must serve three-and-a-half years in prison before his case is considered for parole.’
      • ‘He served two terms in prison last year, for dangerous driving and then for breaking a curfew order.’
      • ‘She has, however, continued to hold the powerful office and is now serving a second term that will run till December 2005.’
      • ‘He will serve three years in prison, with a further five under strict supervision to ensure he does not re-offend following his release.’
      • ‘‘All the funds are available and now it is up to her to volunteer them, or serve another year in prison,’ he said.’
      carry out, perform, do, fulfil, complete, discharge
      View synonyms
  • 2Present (food or drink) to someone.

    ‘they serve wine instead of beer’
    ‘serve white wines chilled’
    • ‘The working committee thank all who came and those who prepared the food and served the tea.’
    • ‘It was mayhem, fuelled by bar staff and a pub industry all too willing to serve drink after drink after drink.’
    • ‘We'd stopped, when the waitress came to serve our pizza and drinks.’
    • ‘Refreshments were served afterwards by the female staff.’
    • ‘The meals are typically served with salads, rice and other side orders.’
    • ‘Once they had settled, and he had served the food and drink, Lauren stood up.’
    • ‘They went to the kitchens, and found the kitchen workers ready to serve cookies and drinks on the spot.’
    • ‘The third supervises the tavern and the food and drink being served by her husbands.’
    • ‘The meeting finished with a social half hour and some tasty refreshments served by hostesses for the evening.’
    • ‘The meal was served with a large side salad and baked potatoes with sour cream.’
    • ‘That evening they served food and drinks to the guest of Master Shay.’
    • ‘Refreshments were served and to mark the occasion certificates were presented to all the children who took part.’
    • ‘Wherever possible, ask that hot food is served piping hot and ensure that cold food has been kept cool.’
    • ‘I like to serve this dessert in individual glasses - wine glasses or tumblers are equally good.’
    • ‘There are countless jobs and professions that are far more dangerous than serving food or drink in the presence of secondhand smoke.’
    • ‘Meanwhile, back in the wine bar, the barman returned and served our drinks.’
    • ‘There were plenty of mushrooms and the dish was also served with potatoes, broccoli and carrots.’
    • ‘Refreshments were served afterwards which included various types of drinks and edibles.’
    • ‘Isabelle received a cup of wine from a man serving drinks.’
    • ‘There's a four-course meal served by waiters.’
    dish out, dish up, give out, distribute, set out, plate up, spoon out, ladle out
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    1. 2.1 Present (someone) with food or drink.
      ‘the cafe refused to serve him with the tea’
      with two objects ‘Peter served them generous portions of soup’
      • ‘After about ten minutes he was served the wrong drinks.’
      • ‘The slave was being taken from fire to fire to serve the men their food.’
      • ‘We ordered coffee after a long journey to be told if we weren't lunching they wouldn't serve us drinks.’
      • ‘Michael had served me a drink, but I had just let it sat on a nearby table.’
      • ‘A group of women were surrounding him, serving him food and drinks.’
      • ‘And after serving him his food, he made me sit down and talk with him about all these philosophical ideas: love, life, and the works.’
      • ‘His eyes were following Michelle was she moved around the café taking orders and serving people their food.’
      • ‘We were the first guests of the afternoon and after a long wait they served us our food.’
      • ‘I've also noticed, no matter how hard I try, I can't smile at fast food staff when they serve me.’
      • ‘As the barman finished serving the group he acknowledged me.’
      • ‘I was served a very generous portion and it was delicious.’
      • ‘There were two dives that day but first we were served up a great lunch, and I have to say it was some of the best food I have had in a long time.’
      • ‘I find it very comforting to know that the owners feed their children the same food that they serve me.’
      • ‘There used to be a young man there who would greet me with a welcoming smile and serve me the food efficiently.’
      • ‘While most people find themselves doing fabulous things on Friday nights, I find myself either serving people food or buying it for myself.’
      • ‘You don't have to eye up drinks I serve you suspiciously.’
      • ‘It is also customary to serve people food and drink when they visit a home.’
      • ‘The distributor told us to eat all our meals at the hotel restaurant because they could serve us Western-style food.’
      • ‘The guy waited till he had served me the drinks, told me it was fine to run up a tab, took my credit card, and then told me that the kitchen wasn't opening for another forty minutes.’
      • ‘She not only insulted me when I served her a drink, but she scared me halfway out of my mind.’
      act as waiter, act as waitress, wait, distribute food, distribute refreshments
      View synonyms
    2. 2.2 (of food or drink) be enough for.
      ‘the recipe serves four people’
      • ‘This recipe makes enough to serve four as a main course, more as a side dish.’
      • ‘Thai food is significantly less meat-intensive than American, and half a pound of meat is enough to serve four.’
    3. 2.3British Attend to (a customer in a shop)
      ‘she turned to serve the impatient customer’
      • ‘The story begins with Bruno the Bear, the proud owner of a sweet shop, serving Olga, the Russian owner of an animal circus.’
      • ‘Also I think it is so rude to be in a shop and being served whilst having a chat on the phone.’
      • ‘Mary didn't say anything more, she finally forced the smile her face had been promising and then went back to serving the other customers.’
      • ‘It was the husband of the woman who had served Freya in the shop.’
      • ‘Among Mike's duties yesterday were serving customers, tidying up and putting security tags on items of clothing.’
      • ‘Shop managers cannot do anything because they are serving a queue of customers.’
      • ‘Called Serenade, the Victoria Road shop was serving its first customers today.’
      • ‘The shop served its last customers on Friday after being based on Newmarket Street for more than 17 years.’
      • ‘She took it without hesitation and wandered off to serve the other customers.’
      • ‘Mark, Andrew and Esther were in the shop front, serving customers.’
      • ‘Sofi finished serving her customer and asked one of her shop assistant to take over.’
      attend to, give one's attention to, attend to the requirements of, deal with, see to
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    4. 2.4 Supply (goods) to a customer.
    5. 2.5Christian Church no object Act as a server at the celebration of the Eucharist.
    6. 2.6archaic with two objects Play (a trick) on (someone)
      ‘I remember the trick you served me’
  • 3Law
    Deliver (a document such as a summons or writ) in a formal manner to the person to whom it is addressed.

    ‘the court then issues the summons and serves it on your debtor’
    • ‘He said the minister would be seeking quashing of the arrest warrant against him on the ground that no summons were served on him.’
    • ‘The prisoner had already served notice of application to appeal to the final court.’
    • ‘Enforcement notices are only served as a last resort, when all efforts to negotiate have failed.’
    • ‘Empanelling a grand jury empowers prosecutors both to serve subpoenas, and to gather testimony under oath.’
    • ‘Writs were served on 30 councillors, who were jailed for their pains in September 1921.’
    1. 3.1 Deliver a document to (the addressee) in a formal manner.
      ‘they were just about to serve him with a writ’
      • ‘We understand you were served with documents from the defense.’
      • ‘As a consequence, the police were unable to locate him to serve him with a subpoena.’
      • ‘When the breath tests were completed, he was served with the appropriate documentation and released on a promise to appear.’
      • ‘While defendant was in custody awaiting an extradition hearing he was served with the Complaint herein.’
      • ‘He was then served with an appropriate prosecution statement and ordered to respond by 7th September.’
      deliver to, present with, give to, hand over to, cause to accept
      View synonyms
  • 4Be of use in achieving or satisfying.

    ‘this book will serve a useful purpose’
    ‘the union came into existence to serve the interests of musicians’
    • ‘His selective memory serves no interest but his own agenda.’
    • ‘They do not satisfy hunger and serve no purpose other than to make the companies that make them wealthy.’
    • ‘The goal was the worthy one of racial integration, but it was served by treating children differently based on their race.’
    • ‘Laser shots and explosions are fairly generic but serve the purpose well.’
    • ‘Also, officers have the added functions of setting goals and inspiring others to achieve them to serve this purpose.’
    • ‘The very existence of law on the statute books serves the purpose.’
    • ‘In essence, the board of directors tries to make sure that shareholders' interests are well served.’
    • ‘It serves no other useful purpose than to inspire and feed the soul.’
    • ‘The proposed lake, which has caused some concern locally in case it affects underground water supplies, will serve three purposes.’
    • ‘Any such individual action would be irresponsible and unwarranted and would serve no useful purpose.’
    • ‘Even if debunked, the book serves a valuable purpose by encouraging new ways of thinking about intelligence and efforts to build intelligent computers.’
    • ‘I don't think he serves any useful purpose for the Democrats.’
    • ‘Indeed, they may tend to serve this function even better than traditional media.’
    • ‘A price war, he warns his prospective rivals, will serve neither party's interests.’
    • ‘It does serve his political strategy to stay away from the facts.’
    • ‘It points to a post-medical age, where doctors serve desires rather than treat disease.’
    • ‘Dropping down into the second team would serve no useful purpose.’
    • ‘What useful purpose is served by stigmatizing work that someone is going to have to do anyway?’
    • ‘I am not convinced that any especially useful purpose would be served by that.’
    • ‘Organizational culture establishes norms and expectations of how people should be treated and serve the needs of the organization.’
    suffice, be adequate, be good enough, be all right, fill the bill, fit the bill, do, answer
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    1. 4.1no object Be of some specified use.
      ‘the square now serves as the town's chief car park’
      with infinitive ‘sweat serves to cool down the body’
      • ‘But the case serves as a warning that the industry will have to find a new way of distributing music which appeals to these kids, and the growing number of people who are searching for their entertainment online.’
      • ‘All of this served to underline the dangers, as much as the benefits, of nationalism.’
      • ‘The above examples serve to underline how limited our philosophy of health has become.’
      • ‘However, it just so happens that a human being standing on the ground near the object serves as a perfectly good conductor as well.’
      • ‘Armstrong serves as an inspiration to many and is clearly one of the most significant contributors to black culture of the 20th, and perhaps any, century.’
      • ‘History will serve only to remind us that man's reach always exceeds his grasp.’
      • ‘That's why an old photograph taped to the refrigerator door serves as a daily reminder of the girl she once was.’
      • ‘Having students present the same material during lab served to reinforce their knowledge.’
      • ‘This kind of reasoning is, of course, nonsense, but it serves as an illustration of the danger in concocting fanciful theories based on historical precedents.’
      • ‘The exercise not only serves as warning, punishment, or purge but also advertises to his subjects, his enemies, and his potential rivals that he is strong.’
      • ‘A weblog serves as a perfect tool for disseminating this type of information.’
      • ‘The whole episode has already served to highlight a number of important economic issues.’
      • ‘The president serves as the soul of a university, with his/her personality, morality and educational ideas usually having a profound influence on the university culture.’
      • ‘It's almost like a superhero film, with magic tricks serving as Danny's powers, helping him solve any sticky situation.’
      • ‘The photographic imprint serves as a substitute.’
      • ‘A sheet of red outdoor fabric serves as the roof.’
      • ‘First and primarily, military advice serves to set a baseline for the analysis of any proposed intervention.’
      • ‘Elastomer and fabric device serves as both a seal and a filter.’
      • ‘Though certainly these later developments served to reinforce and spread the use of such techniques.’
      • ‘A salvaged piece of marble serves as the countertop.’
      act as, function as, fulfil the function of, do duty as, do the work of, act as a substitute for
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    2. 4.2with object and adverbial Treat (someone) in a specified way.
      ‘Cornish homeowners wonder if they are being fairly served’
      • ‘Which are you - do you take the plunge, or do you play it safe, and does your strategy serve you well?’
      • ‘A positive attitude toward others is a strategy that serves you throughout any interaction.’
      • ‘I certainly anticipate that the hummingbird will serve them well for many years to come.’
      • ‘I can't deny that this strategy has served me well in the short term.’
      • ‘The strategy of deterrence which served us so well during the decades of the Cold War will no longer do.’
      • ‘A strategy that has served me well is to pack lightweight, situation-specific bags and boxes.’
      • ‘A second bird dislocated a shoulder and his wing would never be strong enough to serve him in the wild.’
      • ‘It has served Private Eye fairly well over the years.’
      • ‘Facts that did not serve him were treated like unruly underlings.’
      • ‘He identifies the televevangelist model of religious dissemination as one aspect in a wider media strategy that serves the power holders and encourages passivity in people.’
      • ‘For millions of years, while big sharks had few natural predators, this survival strategy served them well.’
      • ‘They've been busy painting, drawing comics and playing in side projects, and the breather has served them well.’
      • ‘He maintained the risk-free strategy that has served him so well in recent rallies.’
      • ‘On three occasions, this strategy has served him well, but his dog funds show the downside of this approach.’
      treat, deal with, act towards, behave towards, conduct oneself towards, handle
      View synonyms
    3. 4.3 (of a male breeding animal) copulate with (a female).
  • 5no object (in tennis and other racket sports) hit the ball or shuttlecock to begin play for each point of a game.

    ‘he tossed the ball up to serve’
    with object ‘serve the ball on to the front wall’
    • ‘He got the message, gave Gracie and me a salute, and ran back to his game, serving the ball and acing it.’
    • ‘Everyone fell silent though when the prince raised his racket and ball to serve.’
    • ‘The players exchange words at the beginning of the game as Scott accuses his opponent of failing to tell him he was serving with new balls in the previous game.’
    • ‘Taking a deep breath, I took my stance, and served that fuzzy yellow ball with all my might.’
    • ‘Before serving in the final game, Pierce had a trainer apply treatment and massage her aching shoulder.’
    1. 5.1serve out Win the final game of a set or match while serving.
      ‘Fitzgerald then served out for the set’
      • ‘A second double-fault allowed Kiefer to break again to lead 5-2 but he failed to serve out the match, putting a forehand wide down the line on break point.’
      • ‘He won only one more game in that set to allow the American to take the set 6-3 and then dropped serve in the ninth game of the third set to enable Fish to serve out the match.’
      • ‘Safin made the crucial break at 4-4 in the final set, and served out the next game to clinch the match.’
      • ‘He served out the final game at love, hitting a 119 mph second serve for a winner on match point.’
      • ‘Davenport slammed three winners to serve out the final game for the win.’
  • 6Nautical
    Bind (a rope) with thin cord to protect or strengthen it.

  • 7Military
    Operate (a gun)

    ‘before long Lodge was the only man in his section able to serve the guns’
    • ‘It was even said that she carried hot coffee to all the officers and then carried more hot coffee in pails to the artilleryman serving the guns.’


  • 1(in tennis and other racket sports) an act of hitting the ball or shuttlecock to start play.

    ‘he was let down by an erratic serve’
    • ‘Rafter chipped and charged on Agassi's second serves.’
    • ‘In pro tennis serves can sometimes reach speeds over 209 kph, or 185 feet per second.’
    • ‘With the big serves in today's tennis, I'm not sure this match will ever be equalled.’
    • ‘He could hardly get a serve into court, seemed too tall and cumbersome to move well or bend, and looked thoroughly outclassed.’
    • ‘In fact, he conceded only 12 points on his serve in nine service games.’
  • 2Australian informal A reprimand.

    ‘he would be willing to give the country a serve in an English newspaper’
    • ‘He suddenly turned holier-than-thou to give them a serve.’
    • ‘But that doesn't mean that company X isn't going to get a serve on customer service, or the lack of.’
    • ‘In March this year she gave him a serve in her media column.’
    • ‘The opposition parties pressed their advantages home and gave Labour a strong serve in Parliament.’
    • ‘Be grateful that you only got a bit of a serve from your boss rather than no pay at the end of the week.’
    reprimand, rebuke, reproof, remonstrance, reproach, admonishment, stricture, lecture, criticism, recrimination, tirade, diatribe, philippic, harangue, attack
    View synonyms


  • if my memory serves (me)

    • If I remember correctly.

      ‘if my memory serves me, this is not the first time’
      • ‘It was passed by State Parliament and if my memory serves me correctly the coalition opposition supported the bill.’
      • ‘And if my memory serves me correctly the girls who work there are little angels.’
      • ‘I think you were allowed seven minutes if my memory serves me correctly.’
      • ‘At 62 she rarely betrayed her age and, if my memory serves me correctly, she performed a number of encores to thank the very enthusiastic audience.’
      • ‘Recently I recall a player going to the courts to seek justice for a severe injury (a broken jaw if my memory serves me correctly) he received in a Gaelic football match.’
  • serve at table

    • Act as a waiter.

      ‘she was reduced to the landlord's daughter who served at table’
      • ‘He was not a factor but ‘was employed as a footman in livery and served at table and occasionally dressed and took care of his Masters Horses.’’
      • ‘They were served at table by a disciplined army of girls.’
      • ‘One day while serving at table he was reprimanded for not paying attention to his duties.’
      • ‘Apart from serving at table he listened sympathetically to their life-stories, encouraged them and praised their endeavours.’
      • ‘French waiters are highly trained in the art of serving at table, but sometimes customers would happily settle for less expertise - if only there were more of them so that they didn't have to wait so long to be served.’
  • serve someone right

    • Be someone's deserved punishment or misfortune.

      ‘it would serve you right if Jeff walked out on you’
      • ‘Their scheming, however, will backfire when they find themselves sidelined and excluded from any future debates on major world affairs and might I say - it serves them right!’
      • ‘It would serve them right if they were shut down as a result of the same disregard for public opinion and democracy.’
      • ‘I mean, it serves them right for including such a confusing item on their checklist, right?’
      • ‘It serves them right for charging a ridiculous amount to park and for not ensuring the safety of our cars.’
      • ‘Yes I know it would serve us right for our wastefulness and greed and selfishness and indifference to the lives of millions of people on this planet who have never enjoyed what we take for granted.’
      • ‘If you're dumb enough to walk into a sign it serves you right, you do not deserve money.’
      • ‘I had a head under the covers morning, following on and serving me right for my festive over-indulgence at dinner last night.’
      • ‘He was correct as usual, and it basically served me right.’
      • ‘Instead, he told me it served me right for looking to a place like that for self-affirmation.’
      • ‘Ah well… serves me right for trying to have a social life, right?’
  • serve one's time

    • 1Hold office for the normal period.

      ‘every sergeant had served his time as a constable’
      • ‘If he really served his time in the National Guard during the Vietnam War, he could easily prove it.’
      • ‘If he is not in death row and he's serving out his time in a maximum-security prison, he will be afforded special treatment, if you will.’
      • ‘These individuals, after they serve their time in the states, will be deported, and one of our goals is to make sure that when they're deported, they don't come back.’
      • ‘There are new questions about the military's policy for calling up troops who have already served their time.’
      • ‘He was appointed to the post of county manager after serving his time as county engineer in Donegal.’
      1. 1.1Spend time in office, in an apprenticeship, or in prison.
        ‘he is serving time in Swansea Prison’
        • ‘He says he robbed banks and served time in prison.’
        • ‘They finally tracked him down to an English prison where he was serving time for a similar crime but under a false name.’
        • ‘They were sentenced to 15 months, but given a suspended sentence, which means they didn't have to serve time in prison.’
        • ‘Most of the former soldiers have already served time in Soviet prisons for war crimes.’
        • ‘You will never see me on the front lines - I am in complete moral opposition to war, and would rather serve time in prison than spend time with a rifle.’
  • serve one's/its turn

    • Be useful or helpful.

      ‘now that they have served their turn, cut some of them out’
      ‘suppressing his ire would hardly serve his turn at this juncture’
      • ‘It also confined him as a novelist to a style and mode of fiction that served its turn, but now seems embedded as a ‘cultural event’, as some like to say, as much as work we read because we like fiction.’
      • ‘‘Then I'll look up; my fault is past,’ he took a steadying breath, ‘But, O, what form of prayer can serve my turn?’’
      • ‘The charges against her were preposterous and she denied them with dignity, but she had never been popular and they served their turn.’
      • ‘History throws individuals away once they have served their turn.’
      • ‘If I could only get a single good, meaty sentence which seemed to convey some sort of definite human idea, it would serve my turn.’
      • ‘His section is the most aristocratic of the parties at present, and I doubt if it would serve my turn to follow his example.’
      • ‘His stupidity served his turn on this occasion better than cunning would have done.’
      • ‘If the play makes the public aware that there are such people as phoneticians, and that they are among its most important people in England at present, it will serve its turn.’
  • serve two masters

    • Take orders from two superiors or follow two conflicting or opposing principles or policies at the same time.

      ‘it is never easy to serve two masters’
      • ‘But that's exactly what's happening because of a gargantuan conflict of interest: The giant mutual funds are serving two masters.’
      • ‘This arrogant contempt for our local town and parish councils by Bradford shows that you cannot serve two masters.’
      • ‘She added that psychiatrists can end up serving two masters when they get into the position of being an administrator rather than a clinician, and a choice has to be made.’
      • ‘That means he must serve two masters - company shareholders and fund investors - whose interests may not always be in sync.’
      • ‘A man cannot serve two masters - eventually, you will be forced to choose.’
      • ‘You have to serve two masters: the president of the United States, and you also try to help the Washington press corps do its job.’
      • ‘Instead, they create this shared management - and no man can serve two masters happily - across all of New Zealand potentially.’
      • ‘If other parties do not want to be stained by the suggestion that they serve two masters, I suggest that they should move amendments to exempt themselves.’
      • ‘And it was not working, this attempt to serve two masters.’
      • ‘It is law layered with politics, which, as a lawyer, I can tell you is the worst kind of fact situation you can find, because you end up serving two masters and it's almost an impossible situation.’


Middle English: from Old French servir, from Latin servire, from servus ‘slave’.