How to Use the Verb Servire in Italian
What does “servire” mean?
First, let’s focus on the meaning and use of servire and how it differs from the other verbs expressing need, like dovere or avere bisogno di.
Servire means to need something. You ought to use servire with a noun (a thing or a person) and never with a verb (an action). When using servire, you imply that a thing or person is necessary or useful for you.
- Mi servono quattro uova per fare la torta di mele – I need for eggs to make the apple pie
- Ti serve il mio aiuto? – Do you need my help?
The difference between: servire / dovere / avere bisogno di
In Italian, there are two other verbs that express “need”
- avere bisogno
dovere is used when you need to do something, so with a verb (an action)
- devo studiare per l’esame – I need to study for the test
- dobbiamo comprare dei vestiti nuovi per la bambina – we need to buy new clothes for the baby
- ho dovuto portare il cane dal veterinario – I 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. By using “avere bisogno di”, you are pointing out that you really need that thing. For example,
- ho bisogno di una vacanza al più presto – I need a vacation (it’s urgent for me)
- ho bisogno di una pausa da questo lavoro – I need 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” is “it 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 serve||mi servono||I need (something)|
|ti serve||ti servono||you need (something)|
|gli serve||gli servono||he needs (something)|
|le serve||le servono||she needs (something)|
|ci serve||ci servono||we need (something)|
|vi serve||vi servono||you need (something)|
|gli serve||gli servono||they need (something)|
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
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…?”
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 takes 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
As you can see from the list, the past tense combines three elements:
the corresponded indirect pronouns + the auxiliary essere + the past participle of servire (servito/a/i/e)
- Mi sono serviti due giorni interni per completare questo lavoro – I needed to entire days to finish this work
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, for example:
- Ti è servito il consiglio? – Was my advice useful to you? [did you need my advice? lit.]
- Ti sono serviti i miei consigli? → Were my tips useful to you? [did you need my tips? lit.]
Servire in the PRESENT PERFECT (passato prossimo)
- mi è servito/a – mi sono serviti/e
- ti è servito/a – ti sono serviti/e
- gli-le è servito/a – gli-le sono serviti/e
- ci è servito/a – ci sono serviti/e
- vi è servito/a – vi sono serviti/e
- gli è servito/a – gli sono serviti/e
Servire in the IMPERFECT
- mi serviva / mi servivano
- ti serviva / ti servivano
- gli-le serviva / gli-le servivano
- ci serviva / ci servivano
- vi serviva / vi servivano
- gli serviva / gli servivano
Servire in the FUTURE SIMPLE
- mi servirà / mi serviranno
- ti servirà / ti serviranno
- gli-le servirà / gli-le serviranno
- ci servirà / ci serviranno
- vi servirà / vi serviranno
- gli servirà / gli serviranno
Servire in the PRESENT CONDITIONAL
- mi servirebbe / mi servirebbero
- ti servirebbe / ti servirebbero
- gli-le servirebbe / gli-le servirebbero
- ci servirebbe / ci servirebbero
- vi servirebbe / vi servirebbero
- gli servirebbe / gli servirebbero
Servire in the PRESENT SUBJUNCTIVE
- mi serva / mi servano
- ti serva / ti servano
- gli-le serva / gli-le servano
- ci serva / ci servano
- vi serva / vi servano
- gli serva / gli servano
Other verbs working similarly to SERVIRE
Severe is not the only verb using a different conjugation (also known as impersonal conjugation). There are several verbs used in conversational Italian working just like servire. For example, the very common verb piacere, but also mancare (to miss) , interessare (to be interested in), bastare (to be enough), succedere (to happen), sembrare (to seem), infastidire (to bother), rattristare (to sadden), innervosire (to make nervous).
You will find 15 engaging short stories in Italian that will teach you in small chunks (so that you don’t get bogged down by difficult words or long sentences) and in an easy-to-understand format with plenty of examples. Olly Richards’ courses take a similar approach to what I teach in my private classes: the learning materials you use must be understandable. Without long, overbearing sentences, but just the right level of difficulty to push you forward.
Italian Grammar Hero is best suited for students at the B1 to B2 CEFR level, or intermediate to upper intermediate. This is a self-paced course designed for people who want to elevate their Italian but can’t commit to regular lessons.