French word of the week: servir

Welcome back! Another week has passed, and our French word for today is the verb servir. Servir follows an irregular verb conjugation, similar to other verbs which end in -vir. To hear how servir is pronounced, you can listen to the audio below:

Servir might remind you of a word that you’re already familiar with in English – the word serve. With this in mind, you might expect to hear servir in the context of restaurants, shops, or at the dinner table – and you’d be right, it’s exactly the same in French. There’s even a similarity to the derived noun serveur or serveuse, which is a waiter. It’s even closer to American English, where a waiter is known as server.

Let’s look at some examples:

Elle nous a servi un vin très cher. She served us a very expensive wine.

Je vous sers de la salade ? Shall I serve you some salad?

Mon rôle, c’est servir les clients dans le magasin. My role is to serve customers in the shop.

Now, did you really think it would be so simple? Servir also has another meaning, which is completely different from what we’ve looked at.

Often, when you see servir followed by the preposition à, its meaning changes to the intransitive verb to be useful:

Ça ne sert à rien d’essayer de lui convaincre. It’s no use trying to convince him.

Ma connaissance de l’espagnol m’a servi pendant mes vacances à Cuba. My knowledge of Spanish was useful on my holiday to Cuba.

À quoi ça sert ? What’s it for?

When you see it followed by the preposition de, it means to be used as:

Il a servi de la fourchette comme outil pour ouvrir ce pot. He used the fork as a tool for opening the jar.

You might also see the verb in its reflexive form se servir. In the context of food and service, it can mean to serve yourself, or to be served (if you’re speaking about food or drink, for instance):

Servez-vous ! Help yourself!

Cette bière se sert très fraîche. This beer should be served ice cold.

Alternatively, we can return to the context of ‘use’, where it simply means to use.

Tu te sers souvent de ta voiture ? Do you use your car often?

Come back to find out which French word we’re serving up next week.

Written by Holly Tarbet, freelance copywriter and editor.

All opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of Collins, or its parent company, HarperCollins.

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