Posted by: janecronin | July 22, 2018


The obvious meaning of “servir” is “to serve” although it can be used in a number of different ways. From a grammatical point of view, the main thing to say about “servir” is that it is what we call a “root-changing” verb.  This means that in certain forms the letter “e” in the main part of the verb changes to the letter “i” following the same pattern as verbs like “pedir” or “repetir”.   This means that the present tense goes like this:  “sirvo” (I serve) “sirves” (you serve) “sirve” (he, she serves) and “sirven” (they serve).  The two forms that keep the same root as the infinitive “servir” are “servimos” (we serve) and “servís” (they serve).

This “e” to “i” root change also occurs in the gerund: “sirviendo” (serving) and in two of the preterite (past) tense forms – “sirvió” (he or she served) and “sirvieron” (they served).  Finally, both the present and imperfect subjunctive tenses are affected by the same phenomenon: “sirva, sirvas, sirva, sirvamos, sirváis, sirvan” (present subjunctive) and “sirviera, sirvieras, sirviera, sirviéramos, sirviérais, sirvieran” (imperfect subjunctive).  I realise I’m probably pushing some of my readers a bit too far with all this talk of subjunctives, but you might want to make a mental note for future reference, that this “e” to “i” root change works in exactly the same way for quite a number of other verbs with the infinitive “ir” ending.

One way in which “servir” is used differently from English is when it means “to be useful, or good, at something”.  A true statement about myself is “Sirvo para explicar idiomas pero no sirvo para reparar ordenadores” (I’m good at (useful at) explaining languages but I’m no good at (i.e. useless) at mending computers”.  I had quite a lot of choice there from all the things I’m useless at.  If I were completely useless at everything I would say “no sirvo para nada”.  You might say that about a useless item – some unwanted Christmas present perhaps – “no sirve para nada” (it´s completely useless).

If you wanted to know why you have to do something, you might ask “¿Para qué sirve?” (“What is it used for?” or “What is the point?”)  “¿Para qué sirve estudiar español?” (What is the point of studying Spanish?)  I will leave that question in the air for you to think about in your own time.

From “servir” we get the word “servicio” (service) which we see around us in many contexts such as “autoservicio” (self-service) which I used to think was a car part shop, and of course “servicios” meaning loos.  The general word for “servant” is “sirviente” but there is another word “servidor” which is means “servant” in a more formal context, somewhat akin to the old-fashioned phrase “your most humble and obedient servant”.   It can be used to refer to oneself in a self-effacing way, for example “este artículo fue escrito por una servidora” (this article was written by “yours truly”).

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