Using 'Servir'

Verb Used Most Often To Indicate How Something or Someone Is Useful

breakfast for lesson on the Spanish verb servir
¿Cuándo se sirve el desayuno? (When is breakfast served?). Jeffreyw/Creative Commons

The Spanish verb servir has most of the meanings of "to serve" but is used more often than the English verb in describing how things are used.

The cognates come from the Latin servire, which originally referred to being a servant or slave. Its meaning of being beneficial developed later.

Servir is conjugated irregularly, using the same pattern as pedir and competir. The stem of serv- changes to sirv- when stressed in the indicative mood and always when used in a simple form of the subjunctive mood.

The conjugations of the present-tense indicative (the most-used conjugation) are as follows: yo sirvo, tú sirves, usted/él/ella sirve, nosotros/nosotras servimos, vosotros servís, ustedes/ellos/ellas sirven.

Using Servir To Indicate Use or Suitability

Although it can stand alone, servir is often followed by the preposition para to indicate how something is used and/or what it is used or useful for. Less common is using the reflexive form servirse followed by the preposition de.

Examples with possible translations:

  • Mi móvil me sirve para estar en contacto en las redes sociales. (My cellphone is useful for me to stay in touch with the social networks.)
  • Las vitaminas sirven para la adecuada función del cuerpo humano. (Vitamins are used in the proper functioning of the human body.)
  • No todos servimos para todo, pero todos servimos para algo. (Not all of us are good at everything, but all of us are good for something.)
  • No sirve para nada. (It's not helpful for anything.)
  • La jefa de la policía quiere dos perros que sirvieron para detectar narcóticos y explosivos. (The police chief wants two dogs that would be used to detect drugs and explosives.)
  • Nuestro programa de seguridad puede servir como modelo para otras escuelas. (Our security system can be used as a model for other schools.)
  • Esta clase sirve a alumnos con discapacidades graves. (This class serves students with severe disabilities.)
  • Me serví de la llave para abrir la puerta. (I used the key to open the door.)
  • Muchos oradores se sirven historias humorísticas para establecer una relación con la audiencia. (Many speakers use funny stories to make a connection with the audience.)

Using Servir To Refer To Serving Someone

Although servir often has a domestic connotation such as when it refers to serving food, it can be used in a wide variety of contexts involving helping someone or something.

  • El mesero puso azúcar en las tazas e inmediatamente sirvió el té. (The waiter put sugar in the cups and immediately served the tea.)
  • Hay varios métodos de servir la mesa. (There are several ways of setting the table.)
  • Mi abuelo sirvió en el ejército durante la guerra. (My grandfather served in the army during the war.)
  • El gobernador dice que quiere servir al pueblo. (The governor says he wants to help the people.)
  • ¿Dónde se sirve el desayuno? (Where is breakfast served?)
  • Me serví la leche en el refrigerador. (I helped myself to the milk in the refrigerator.)
  • ¿En qué puedo servirte? (How can I help you?)

Using Servir in Sports

Sports where a ball is served in English typically use servir in Spanish: Si un jugador sirvió fuera de su turno, ese juego queda anulado.

(If a player serves out of order, that game won't count.)