Serve and Service

Commonly Confused Words

getty_service_station-466336865.jpg
Gas stations in the U.S. used to be called "service stations": uniformed attendants would pump gas, check the oil, wash the windshield, and provide free maps. (Rae Russel/Getty Images)

As verbs, both these words concern giving or providing, but in general practice, people are served, things are serviced. See the examples and the usage notes below.

Examples

  • The sole responsibility of White House staff is to serve the president.
  • Three technicians serviced the president's computer.

Usage Notes

  • "Many commentators disparage the use of service in contexts where serve is also possible. They favor restricting service to those senses which are uniquely its own, especially 'to repair or provide maintenance for,' as in 'service a car.' . . . Nevertheless, the disapproved sense of service continues to be fairly common."
    (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, 1994)
  • "[S]ervice was once only a noun, but since the late 19th century it has been used as a transitive verb as well. It may mean 'to provide service for' , 'to pay interest on' , or generally 'to perform services for.' Ordinarily the verb to serve ought to be used in broad senses. Service should be used only if the writer believes that serve would not be suitable in idiom or sense, especially since service also denotes the male animal's function in breeding."
    (Bryan A. Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage. Oxford University Press, 2003)

Practice

(a) "School libraries usually _____ the students and teachers in a school or school system, supporting the needs of the curriculum and promoting reading and literacy."
(Pamela H. MacKellar, The Accidental Librarian. Information Today, 2008)

(b) A fuel truck arrived to ____ the aircraft.

Answers to Practice Exercises:

(a) "School libraries usually serve the students and teachers in a school or school system, supporting the needs of the curriculum and promoting reading and literacy."
(Pamela H.

MacKellar, The Accidental Librarian. Information Today, 2008)

(b) A fuel truck arrived to service the aircraft.

S​ee also: Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Serve and Service." ThoughtCo, Apr. 13, 2017, thoughtco.com/serve-and-service-1689609. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, April 13). Serve and Service. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/serve-and-service-1689609 Nordquist, Richard. "Serve and Service." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/serve-and-service-1689609 (accessed January 21, 2018).