How to Use the Verb Servire in Italian

What does ‘servire’ mean?

First, let’s delve into the meaning and usage of “servire” and explore how it differs from other verbs expressing necessity, such as “dovere” or “avere bisogno di.”

Servire means to need something. It should be employed with a noun (referring to an object or a person) and should never be combined with a verb (indicating an action). When you use “servire,” you convey that a particular thing or person is essential or beneficial to you to do something else.

For example,

Mi servono quattro uovaI need four eggs
Ti serve il mio aiuto?Do you need my help?

In the sentences above, you might need four eggs to prepare a cake or help to assemble a table. The use of ‘servire’ is appropriate in these sentences because it signifies the need for one thing in relation to another.

In the sentences above, you might need four eggs to prepare a cake or help to assemble a table.
The use of ‘servire’ is appropriate in these sentences because it signifies the need for one thing in relation to another.

Servire, dovere, avere bisogno: the difference

In Italian, there are two other verbs that express ‘necessity,’ but they are not interchangeable.

  • Dovere = need to do something
  • Avere bisogno = urge or pressing need

Dovere is used when you need to do something, so with an action verb.

devo studiare per l’esameI need to study for the test
dobbiamo comprare dei vestiti nuovi per la bambinaWe need to buy new clothes for the baby
ho dovuto portare il cane dal veterinarioI had to take my dog to the vet

Avere bisogno means ‘to need something” too, but is more emphatic than servire. We say ‘ho bisogno di‘ to emphasize the need for something. Avere bisogno di emphasize a pressing need or urge. out that you really need that thing.

ho bisogno di una vacanza al più prestoI need a vacation (it’s urgent for me)
ho bisogno di una pausa da questo lavoroI need a break (it’s urgent for me)

How to Conjugate ‘Servire’

As you might already have noticed, servire (and a few other verbs that I will list at the end of this post) does not follow a regular conjugation, and it’s used differently from its equivalent in English — I need. 

Servire is conjugated with indirect pronouns and works similarly to the verb piacere

The Italian translation for “I need” is NOT “io servo,” but mi serve or mi servono. 

The literal translation of “mi serve” isit is necessary for me”.

Servire is always conjugated in the 3rd person plural and singular. The person who needs something is denoted with an indirect object pronoun (mi, ti, gli/le, ci, vi, gli) and not with the regular subject pronouns (io, tu, lui, etc..)

The verb ‘servire’ in the present tense 

mi servemi servonoI need (something)
ti serveti servonoyou need (something)
gli servegli servonohe needs (something)
le servele servonoshe needs (something)
ci serveci servonowe need (something)
vi servevi servonoyou need (something)
gli servegli servonothey need (something)
conjugation of ‘servire’ – present tense

What’s the difference between “serve” and “servono”?

Serve is used when the thing we need is a singular entity.

  • Mi serve una penna  – I need a pen 
  • Ti serve questo documento? – do you need this file? 
  • Ci serve un un armadio nuovo  – we need a new closet 

Servono is used when the things or people need is a plural entity.

  • Mi servono delle penne – I need some pens
  • Ti servono questi documenti? – Do you need these files?
  • Ci servono due nuovi armadi – We need two new closets 

Let’s recap…

ItalianEnglishSingular/Plural
ServeI need a pen.Singular
ServeDo you need this file?Singular
ServeWe need a new closet.Singular
ServonoI need some pens.Plural
ServonoDo you need these files?Plural
ServonoWe need two new closets.Plural

When you say mi serve in Italian, what you say in English is “something” is needed for me/to you/to him, etc.…

  • Mi serve / mi servono = I need → it’s necessary for me 
  • Ti serve / ti servono =  you need/ Do you need?→ it’s necessary for you, etc..

So, mi serve del pane means some bread is necessary for me or I need some break 

Why do we say ‘A Maria serve…’ and not ‘Maria serve…’

When the person who needs something is denoted by a noun (and not by a pronoun), the noun must be preceded by the preposition a:

  • A Maria serve un tappetino da yoga – Maria needs a yoga mat  
  • A Lucia non sono serviti quei documenti  – Lucy didn’t need those files

Servire in the passato prossimo

Like in the present tense, servire uses a different conjugation with the passato prossimo (and the other verbs). 

The Italian for ‘I needed’ is mi è servito/a or mi sono serviti/e

The passato prossimo of ‘servire’ combines three elements:

the indirect pronouns + the auxiliary essere + the past participle of servire (servito/a/i/e)

Ti è servito il consiglio?Was my advice useful to you? (Did you need my advice?)
Ti sono serviti i consigli?Were my tips useful to you? (Did you need my tips?)
servire and the passato prossimo

The auxiliary and the past participles always agree in terms of gender and number with the thing that is being needed. So, if the entity being liked is a feminine noun, you will need to make sure that the participle makes the correct agreement with the subject.

The conjugation of ‘servire’ with the passato prossimo

Italian SingularItalian PluralEnglish SingularEnglish Plural
Mi è servito/aMi sono serviti/eI needed itI needed them
Ti è servito/aTi sono serviti/eYou needed itYou needed them
Gli-le è servito/aGli-le sono serviti/eHe/She needed itThey needed them
Ci è servito/aCi sono serviti/eWe needed itWe needed them
Vi è servito/aVi sono serviti/eYou (plural) needed itYou (plural) needed them
Gli è servito/aGli sono serviti/eThey needed itThey needed them
conjugation of ‘servire’ – passato prossimo

The conjugation of “servire” with the imperfetto

Italian SingularItalian PluralEnglish SingularEnglish Plural
Mi servivaMi servivanoI neededWe needed
Ti servivaTi servivanoYou neededYou needed
Gli-le servivaGli-le servivanoHe/She neededThey needed
Ci servivaCi servivanoWe neededWe needed
Vi servivaVi servivanoYou (plural) neededYou (plural) needed
Gli servivaGli servivanoThey neededThey needed
conjugation of ‘servire’ with imperfetto

The conjugation of “servire” with the future simple 

Italian SingularItalian PluralEnglish SingularEnglish Plural
Mi serviràMi servirannoI will needWe will need
Ti serviràTi servirannoYou will needYou will need
Gli-le serviràGli-le servirannoHe/She will needThey will need
Ci serviràCi servirannoWe will needWe will need
Vi serviràVi servirannoYou (plural) will needYou (plural) will need
Gli serviràGli servirannoThey will needThey will need
conjugation of ‘servire’ with futuro semplice

The conjugation of “servire” with the present conditional 

Italian SingularItalian PluralEnglish SingularEnglish Plural
Mi servirebbeMi servirebberoI would needWe would need
Ti servirebbeTi servirebberoYou would needYou would need
Gli-le servirebbeGli-le servirebberoHe/She would needThey would need
Ci servirebbeCi servirebberoWe would needWe would need
Vi servirebbeVi servirebberoYou (plural) would needYou (plural) would need
Gli servirebbeGli servirebberoThey would needThey would need
conjugation of ‘servire’ – present conditional

 

Other verbs working similarly to servire

Servire is not the only verb using a different conjugation pattern, also known as impersonal conjugation. These above verbs, like ‘servire‘, have a different conjugation pattern that can be challenging for learners. They often use the third person singular or plural forms to express the idea that something is pleasing, missing, interesting, sufficient, happening, seeming, bothering, saddening, or making someone nervous.

piacereto like, to please
mancareto miss
interessareto be interested in
bastareto be enough
succedereto happen
sembrareto seem
infastidireto bother
rattristareto sadden
innervosireto make nervous
list of impersonal verbs in Italian

Examples:

  • Mi piace il gelato. (I like ice cream.) – Literally: “Ice cream is pleasing to me.”
  • Ci mancano i tuoi consigli. (We miss your advice.) – Literally: “Your advice is missing to us.”
  • Ti interessa la musica classica? (Are you interested in classical music?) – Literally: “Classical music is interesting to you?”
  • Non basta il tempo. (Time is not enough.) – Literally: “Time is not enough.”
  • Mi sembra un buon film. (It seems like a good movie to me.) – Literally: “It seems a good movie to me.”

About the Author

Serena Capilli

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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