The essential guide to conjugating and using the French verb “servir”

Servir (to serve.) Such a helpful French verb…well, not exactly. Because service goes both ways. Not only might you be served by someone or use something to help you accomplish a task; you may also be doing the serving or even be used (manipulated) by someone!

This dichotomy is also a way to remember that servir has another side when it comes to conjugation. Usually, it’s an irregular -ir verb conjugated with avoir, but it can become a reflexive verb, as well, and in that case, it’s conjugated with être. when it’s used as a reflexive verb, it’s meaning and the auxiliary verb that goes with it, changes.

Let’s dig a little deeper into servir, a verb that’s not always as obedient as you might think!

Servir conjugation

First, let’s start with the basics.

Here’s how to conjugate servir in the most common French verb tenses.

PresentPassé ComposéImparfait
je sersj’ai servije servais
tu serstu as servitu servais
il/elle/on sertil/elle/on a serviil/elle/on servait
nous servonsnous avons servinous servions
vous servezvous avez servivous serviez
ils/elles serventils/elles ont serviils/elles servaient
je serviraije serviraisque je serve
tu servirastu serviraisque tu serves
il/elle/on servirail/elle/on serviraitqu’ il/elle/on serve
nous servironsnous servirionsque nous servions
vous servirrezvous serviriezque vous serviez
ils/elles servirontils/elles serviraientqu’ils/elles servent
Imperative (Like some irregular verbs, the imperative form of être is based on its present subjunctive conjugation, not presents simple.)
sers (tu)
servons (nous)
servez (vous)

What does servir mean?

As you may have guessed, servir means “to serve”.

For instance, Jeanne leur a servi du thé. (Jeanne served them some tea). Or the cliché, uber-polite phrase every French valet or waiter at a high-end restaurant is supposed to say (but usually doesn’t in real life): Monsieur est servi or Madame est servie.  

There are some less common meanings of servir, but all of them fit into this general idea of serving someone something (servir quelque chose à quelqu’un).  When you’re talking about specific food or drink, it’s easy to make a sentence with servir  – just use the same article(s) to denote portion, gender, etc., as you would in most sentences.

So for instance: Ses parents ont servi du poisson pour le dîner ce soir. (His parents served fish for dinner tonight.)/ Dans ce restaurant, on te sert une madeleine faite maison avec le café. (At this restaurant, they serve a homemade madeleine with the coffee).

The word is also used in tennis, just like “serve” is in English.

But add a preposition or reflexive pronoun to servir, and things get a bit more complex.

Four common variants of servir

A pretty dresser painted dark blue with folk art flower designs, in a sunlit room bedroom. We see windows with black and white checkered curtains, a black picture frame, and little knick knacks everywhere.

There are four common variants of servir that take on slightly different meanings:

servir à…. – to serve the purpose of….  Examples: À quoi sert cet appli ? (What purpose does this app serve?/What is this app for?) Cet appli sert à organiser les chansons que j’ai téléchargé sur mon portable. (This app organizes the music I’ve downloaded  onto my phone.)

servir de… – to be used as…. Example: Un tiroir rempli de vêtements servait de lit de bebe. (A drawer flilled with clothing was used as the baby’s bed.)

se servir – to serve oneself. Example: Boucle d’Or se servit un peu de bouillie. (Goldilocks served herself some porridge.)

se servir de – to use someone or something to one’s advantage; to take advantage of…. This can also be used in a general way, to say someone used something to help them. Examples: Il s’est servi de moi pour se rapprocher de ma copine ! (He used me to get closer to my girlfriend!) /Jacques, qui est malvoyant, se sert d’un logiciel qui le permet de naviguer l’internet. (Jacques, who is visually impaired, uses special software to navigate the internet.)

Se servir conjugation

Because se servir and se servir de include a reflexive verb, they take être as an auxiliary verb, whereas plain old servir is conjugated with avoir. This means that when you use se servir in a compound tense, the participle has to agree with the subject in gender and number.

Here’s how to conjugate se servir in the most common French verb tenses.

Present simplePassé ComposéPassé Imparfait
je me sersje me suis servi(e)je me servais
tu te serstu t’es servi(e)tu te servais
il/elle/on se sertil/elle/on s’est servi(e)il/elle/on se servait
nous nous servonsnous nous sommes servi(e)snous nous servions
vous vous servezvous vous êtes servi(e)(s)vous vous serviez
ils/elles se serventils/elles se sont servi(e)sils/elles se servaient
je me serviraije me serviraisque je me serve
tu te servirastu te serviraisque tu te serves
il/elle/on se servirail/elle/on se serviraitqu’ il/elle/on se serve
nous nous servironsnous nous servirionsque nous nous servions
vous vous servirrezvous vous serviriezque vous vous serviez
ils/elles se servirontils/elles se serviraientqu’ils/elles se servent
Imperative (Like some irregular verbs, the imperative form of être is based on its present subjunctive conjugation, not presents simple.)
sers (tu)
servons (nous)
servez (vous)

Less common tenses of se servir

These verb tenses aren’t used as frequently in everyday spoken or written French, but they are useful to know – and in many cases, to use:

je m’étais servi(e)
tu t’étais servi(e)
il/elle/on s’était servi(e)
nous nous étions servi(e)s
vous vous étiez servi(e)(s)
ils/elles s’étaient servi(e)s
Passé simplePassé antérieur
je me servisje me fus servi(e)
tu te servistu te fus servi(e)
il/elle/on se servitil/elle/on se fut servi(e)
nous nous servîmesnous nous fûmes servi(e)s
vous vous servîtesvous vous fûtes servi(e)(s)
ils/elles se servirentils/elles se furent servi(e)s
  Futur antérieurFutur proche
je me serai servi(e)je vais me servir
tu te seras servi(e)tu vas te servir
il/elle/on se sera servi(e)il/elle/on va se servir
nous nous serons servi(e)snous allons nous servir
vous vous serez servi(e)(s)vous allez vous servir
ils/elles se seront servi(e)sils/elles vont se servir
Conditionnnel du passé
je me serais servi(e)
tu te serais servi(e)
il/elle/on se serait servi(e)
nous nous serions servi(e)s
vous vous seriez servi(e)(s)
ils/elles se seraient servi(e)s
Passé du subjonctifImparfait du subjonctifPlus-que-parfait du subjonctif
je me sois servi(e)je me servisseje me fusse servi(e)
tu te sois servi(e)tu te servissestu te fusses servi(e)
il/elle/on se soit servi(e)il/elle/on se servitil/elle/on se fût servi(e)
nous nous soyons servi(e)snous ayons nous servissionsnous nous fussions servi(e)s
vous vous soyez servi(e)(s)vous ayez vous servissiezvous vous fussiez servi(e)(s)
ils/elles se soient servi(e)sils/elles se servissentils/elles se fussent servi(e)s

Some common phrases and expressions with servir 

Close-up of a man's chest and arms. He is pouring himself a glass of red wine. On the table in front of him are the remains of a meal, including ribs and other drinks, probably from his dining companions.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of servir (and se servir). Here are some phrases and expressions they’re commonly used with:

ne servir à rien – to be useless. Example: Ce stylo ne sert à rien, il n’a plus d’encre. (This pen is useless, it’s out of ink.).  You can also use this with a person or animal, which is just as mean as it is in English.

ne servir à rien de… – it’s useless/pointless to/there’s no point in…. Examples: Il ne sert à rien de crier dans l’espace. Personne ne t’entendrait. (There’s no point in screaming in space. No one would hear you.)/ Ça ne sert à rien de pleurer, Marie, tu trouveras un mec bien mieux qu’Augustin ! (There’s no point in crying, Marie, you’ll find a guy who’s way better than Augustin!).

As you can see, you can use this phrase with Il or Ça. This is one of those complex issues in French, but essentially, the difference is that Ça tends to be a bit more informal/personal, and is also what we’d hear most often in everyday spoken French, while Il (as “It”) tends to be more formal or abstract.

se servir un verre – to serve oneself a drink.

servir de décor – to be eye candy or arm candy.

servir Dieu/l’Etat/un maître, etc. – to serve God/your country/a master, etc.

Monsieur est servi/Madame est servie – Dinner (or whatever meal it is) is served, sir/madam.  This is an ultra-polite phrase that’s usually used as a joke or ironic comment rather than its intended context (unless the person talking to you is an old-fashioned butler or waiter). You can read more about it, including the etiquette of using “Monsieur” or “Madame” in a mixed group on this very interesting forum thread.

bien servir – to be very useful/to serve (someone) well. Example: La Carte du Maraudeur a bien servi Harry Potter et ses amis. (The Maurauder’s Map was very useful to Harry Potter and his friends.)

servir à quelque chose – to be worth something, to have a purpose, to amount to something. Example: Il espérait que tout ce temps passé en étudiant les habitudes des souris servirait à quelque chose. (He hoped that all of this time spent studying the habits of mice would amount to something.)

On n’est jamais mieux servi que par soi-même.  –  If you want something done right, do it yourself. This expression literally translates to: One is never served better than by oneself. There are a few very slight variations.

So, that’s what you need to know about the verb servir. J’espère que cet article vous servira bien !

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Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg is an American writer, worrier, teacher, and cookie enthusiast who has lived in Paris, France, for more than a decade. She has taught English and French for more than ten years, most notably as an assistante de langue vivante for L'Education Nationale. She recently published her first novel, Hearts at Dawn, a "Beauty and the Beast" retelling that takes place during the 1870 Siege of Paris. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.