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A jump serve in a game of volleyball


From Middle English serven, from Middle French servir, from Old French, from Latin serviō (be a slave; serve), from Latin servus (slave; servant), which perhaps derives from Etruscan (compare Etruscan proper names 𐌔𐌄𐌓𐌅𐌉 (Servi), 𐌔𐌄𐌓𐌅𐌄 (Serve)).[1]



serve (plural serves)

  1. (sports) An act of putting the ball or shuttlecock in play in various games.
    Whose serve is it?
    • 1961 January 13, Marshall Smith, From Waif to a Winner, the Clown of the Courts, Life, page 99,
      He had no power serve of his own, no backhand, no volley, no lob, no idea of pace or tactics.
    • 1996, Steve Boga, Badminton, page viii,
      The first serve of the game is from the right half court to the half diagonally opposite.
    • 2009, Mihnea Moldoveanu, Roger L. Martin, Diaminds: Decoding the Mental Habits of Successful Thinkers, page 31,
      Against a serve of the calibre of McEnroe′s, an opponent will try to anticipate the ball′s direction and lean either to the left or to the right, depending on where he feels the server will go.
  2. (chiefly Australia) A portion of food or drink, a serving.
    • 2004, Susanna Holt, Fitness Food: The Essential Guide to Eating Well and Performing Better, Murdoch Books Australia, page 23,
      The night before your event, base your evening meal on high-carbohydrate foods with a small serve of lean protein.
    • 2007, Verity Campbell, Turkey, Lonely Planet, page 142,
      Come here for a cappuccino that could hold its own on Via Veneto in Rome (€2) and a serve of their crunchy fresh cheese börek.
    • 2008, Michael E. Cichorski, Maximum Asthma Control: The Revolutionary 3-Step Anti Asthma Program, page 100,
      Reintroduce protein; add a small serve of salmon, tuna or sardines every second day (tinned variety or fresh).
    • 2011, Great Britain Parliament House of Commons Health Committee, Alcohol: First Report of Session 2009-10, Volume 2, page 189,
      Smirnoff Appleback was a finished drink, comprising a 50ml serve of Smirnoff, with ice and lemonade or ginger ale and equating to 1.9 units.
    • 2012, Lesley Campbell, Alan L. Rubin, Type 2 Diabetes For Dummies, Australian Edition, page 117,
      One serve of carbohydrates is approximately equal to a slice of bread, a piece of fruit, third of a cup of cooked rice, half a cup of grains, cereals, starchy vegetables or cooked pasta, 200 grams of plain yoghurt, or 300 millilitres of milk.


  • (act of putting the ball or shuttlecock in play): service
  • (portion of food): See serving


  • (sports: act of putting the ball or shuttlecock in play): receive



serve (third-person singular simple present serves, present participle serving, simple past and past participle served)

  1. (personal) To provide a service.
    1. (transitive) To be a formal servant for (a god or deity); to worship in an official capacity. [from 12thc.]
    2. (transitive) To be a servant for; to work for, to be employed by. [from 13thc.]
      • 1716, Joseph Addison, The Drummer
        And, truly, Mrs Abigail, I must needs say, I served my master contentedly while he was living, but I will serve no man living (that is, no man that is not living) without double wages.
      • 1959, Georgette Heyer, chapter 1, in The Unknown Ajax:
        [] his lordship was out of humour. That was the way Chollacombe described as knaggy an old gager as ever Charles had had the ill-fortune to serve.
      • 1979, Bob Dylan, Gotta Serve Somebody:
        You may be a businessman or some high-degree thief, / They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief / But you're gonna have to serve somebody.
    3. (transitive) To wait upon (someone) at table; to set food and drink in front of, to help (someone) to food, meals etc. [from 13thc.]
      • 2007, Larry McMurty, When the Light Goes
        That night Annie served him grilled halibut and English peas, plus tomatoes, of course, and a salad.
    4. (intransitive) To be a servant or worker; to perform the duties of a servant or employee; to render service. [from 14thc.]
    5. (transitive) To set down (food or drink) on the table to be eaten; to bring (food, drink) to a person. [from 15thc.]
      • 2009, Dominic A Pacyga, Chicago: A Biography, p.195:
        About twenty minutes after waiters served the soup, a guest got up and left.
  2. (transitive, archaic) To treat (someone) in a given manner. [from 13thc.]
    • 1924, H. Rider Haggard, Belshazzar
      I mock them all who have served me ill of late and chiefly this cheat of Judah, whose temple we have plundered and whose golden vessels are my wash-pots.
  3. (transitive, archaic) To be suitor to; to be the lover of. [from 14thc.]
  4. To be effective.
    1. (transitive) To be useful to; to meet the needs of. [from 14thc.]
      • 2010 October 12, Lloyd Marcus, The Guardian
        So, while the sycophantic liberal media calls any and all opposition to Obama racist, they give Obama carte blanche to exploit his race whenever it serves his purpose.
    2. (intransitive) To have a given use or purpose; to function for something or to do something. [from 14thc.]
      • 2011 January 27, "Borgata bust", The Economist
        The bust also served to remind the public that the Mafia is not harmless.
      • 2012 March-April, Terrence J. Sejnowski, “Well-connected Brains”, in American Scientist, volume 100, number 2, page 171:
        Creating a complete map of the human connectome would therefore be a monumental milestone but not the end of the journey to understanding how our brains work. The achievement will transform neuroscience and serve as the starting point for asking questions we could not otherwise have answered, [].
    3. (intransitive) To usefully take the place as, instead of something else. [from 14thc.]
      • 1879, R[ichard] J[efferies], chapter II, in The Amateur Poacher, London: Smith, Elder, & Co., [], OCLC 752825175, page 071:
        Orion hit a rabbit once; but though sore wounded it got to the bury, and, struggling in, the arrow caught the side of the hole and was drawn out. []. Ikey the blacksmith had forged us a spearhead after a sketch from a picture of a Greek warrior; and a rake-handle served as a shaft.
      • 2010 April 20, "Not up in the air", The Economist
        Maybe the volcanic eruption will serve as a wake-up call to such companies that they need to modernise their risk management.
  5. (transitive, law) To deliver a document.
    1. To officially deliver (a legal notice, summons etc.). [from 15thc.]
      • 2008 April, Pamela Colloff, The Fire That Time, Texas Monthly; Austin: Emmis Publishing, p.158:
        On the morning of February 28, 1993, ATF agents gathered at a staging area near Waco and prepared to serve a search warrant on the Branch Davidians' residence.
    2. To make legal service upon (a person named in a writ, summons, etc.)
      to serve a witness with a subpoena
  6. (transitive, intransitive, sports) To lead off with the first delivery over the net in tennis, volleyball, ping pong, badminton etc. [from 16thc.]
    • 2007, Rob Antoun, Women's Tennis Tactics, p.2:
      In women's tennis the need to serve more effectively has become greater in recent years because the game is being played more aggressively, and rallies are becoming shorter as a result.
  7. (transitive) To copulate with (of male animals); to cover. [from 16thc.]
    • 1996, Puck Bonnier et al., Dairy Cattle Husbandry, Agromisa Foundation 2004
      Conception means that a cow is served by a bull and that she becomes pregnant.
  8. (intransitive) To be in military service. [from 16thc.]
    • 2007 May 16, Peter Walker, The Guardian
      Some reports suggested he would quit the army if he was not allowed to serve abroad in a war zone.
  9. (transitive, military) To work, to operate (a weapon). [from 18thc.]
    • 1864, Horace Greeley, The American Conflict
      John T. Greble, of the 2d regular artillery, was likewise killed instantly by a ball through the head, while serving his gun in the face of the foe.
  10. (transitive) To work through (a given period of time in prison, a sentence). [from 19thc.]
    • 2010 December 1, Tania Branigan, The Guardian
      The Guangzhou Daily reported that Shi Chunlong, 20, who organised the incident, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Hou Bin, who pulled out of the attack after helping to plan it, will serve 12 years.
  11. (nautical) To wind spun yarn etc. tightly around (a rope or cable, etc.) so as to protect it from chafing or from the weather.
  12. To perform a public obligation.
    I've received a summons for jury duty. It says I serve one day or one trial.


Derived termsEdit

Related termsEdit


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout#Translations.



  1. ^ serve” in Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001–2019.




Etymology 1Edit

See the etymology of the main entry.



  1. Feminine plural of adjective servo.


serve f pl

  1. plural of serva

Etymology 2Edit

See the etymology of the main entry.



  1. third-person singular present indicative of servire



serve m

  1. vocative singular of servus




  1. third-person singular (ele and ela, also used with você and others) present indicative of servir
  2. second-person singular (tu, sometimes used with você) affirmative imperative of servir