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1. The condition, station, or occupation of being a servant. (In mod. use almost exclusively spec. = domestic service.) a. In phrases with preps. at, in, into, on, out of service; to go to, put to, set to service; to go into, put into, take into service; to place out at service.
b. In other constructions.
c. Servitude, slavery. Obs.
2. a. Const. of or possessive: The condition of being a servant of a particular master.
b. In religious use: The condition or fact of being a servant (of God). Cf. 13. to end in God's service: to die in the faith.
c. The condition of being the ‘servant’ (of Love, of one's lady). Obs. (Cf. 10.)
d. A particular ministerial office or charge.

For lessons on the topic of Service, follow this link.

3. a. A situation or place as servant (obs.). b. A particular employ; the serving of a certain master or household.
4. a. The condition or employment of a public servant (of a sovereign or state). in the British, French, etc. service: (chiefly of a soldier or sailor).
b. horse of service, a war-horse or charger.
c. to take service: to enlist under a military commander, join a fighting force.
5. a. A branch of public employment, or a body of public servants, concerned with some particular kind of work or the supply of some particular need, as in the consular service, the customs service, the diplomatic service, the excise service, the CIVIL SERVICE.
b. the service: the Army or Navy (according to the implication in the context) considered as a sphere of duty or occupation, or as a profession. Also, the Air Force and intelligence departments. So the (United) Services, the Army and Navy. For the senior service (the Navy), see SENIOR a. 2.
  • II. The work or duty of a servant; the action of serving a master.
6. a. Performance of the duties of a servant; attendance of servants; work done in obedience to and for the benefit of a master. to do, bear (one) service, to serve, attend on (a master); now rare exc. poet.
b. An act of serving; a duty or piece of work done for a master or superior.
c. the flesh's service, sexual intercourse. Also the service of Venus. Obs.
7. The use of the n. (in sense 6) as obj. to verbs of ambiguous meaning like pay, yield, led to the development of the sense: Reward for service, wages, payment. (Cf. SERVE v.2) Obs.
8. In feudal use. a. Feudal allegiance, fealty; profession of allegiance, homage. Obs.
b. A duty (whether a payment in money or kind, a definite amount of forced labour, or some act useful or complimentary) which a tenant is bound to render periodically to his lord. Cf. knight-service 1.
c. to hold in service [tr. AF. tenir en service (Britton), law Latin tenere in servitio]: To hold (land) not in one's own occupation (‘in demesne’) but in that of a sub-tenant. See DEMESNE 1.
d. A feudal holding. Obs.
9. transf. a. In complimentary expressions: Respect, ‘duty’. my service to you: a phrase accompanying the drinking to a person. In epistolary use, give my service to = remember me respectfully to (a third person). to pay, present one's service (to), to pay a call of ceremony. Now rare or Obs.
b. pl. in the same sense. Obs.
c. at (a person's) service: ready to obey his commands. (Cf. sense 25.) at your service: used ellipt. as a phrase of politeness. Also yours to do you service.
10. The devotion or suit of a lover; professed love. arch. (Cf. 2c.)
11. The serving the sovereign or the state in an official capacity; the duties or work of public servants. On His (or Her) Majesty's Service: a formula (often abbreviated O.H.M.S.) printed on the cover of a letter to indicate that it is official (and therefore exempt from postage). secret service: see SECRET a. 4c.
12. a. The duty of a soldier or sailor; the performance of this duty. Often, actual participation in warfare; more fully active service. piece (or parcel) of service: a military achievement or exploit. (In Shakes. used ironically.)
b. A military or naval operation in which a soldier or a regiment serves (often pl.); an expedition or engagement.
c. A manner of serving in warfare (e.g. mounted or on foot, with some specified weapon); a branch of the service (= ARM n.2 9). Obs.
d. to see service. Of a soldier: To have experience of warfare. Hence (in perfect tense) of a thing, to have been much used or worn.
e. man of service: a veteran soldier. Obs.
f. pl. (See quot.)
  • III. In religious uses. (See also 2b.)
13. The serving (God) by obedience, piety, and good works. Phrase, to do God's service.
14. Worship; esp. public worship according to form and order. Now rare or Obs. exc. in divine service. Formerly often, God's service, public service, common service.
15. A celebration of public worship. Often without the article, where a particular occasion is indicated by the context.
16. a. A ritual or series of words and ceremonies prescribed for public worship, or for some particular occasion or ministration. Often with defining word, as baptismal, burial, communion, marriage service (none of these are so entitled in the Prayer-book). altar-service, the Communion. book of service = service-book Phrases, to read, say, sing service.
b. spec. The daily office or hours of the breviary (= OFFICE n. 6a); more fully divine service. Our Lady service, the Little Office of the Virgin Mary. Obs.
c. common service, the ‘Common Prayer’ of the Prayer-book. Obs.
d. to give (one) service: to have the service of the church performed over a dead man. Obs.
e. Used transf. of the singing of birds. Obs.
17. A musical setting of those portions of the church-offices which are sung; esp. the music for the canticles at Morning and Evening Prayer.
18. A SERVICE-BOOK. Now only, a volume containing the Book of Common Prayer together with the daily lessons; = CHURCH-SERVICE 3.
  • IV. Help, benefit, advantage, use.
19. a. The action of serving, helping, or benefiting; conduct tending to the welfare or advantage of another. Chiefly in to do, render service (cf. 6).
b. An act of helping or benefiting; an instance of beneficial or friendly action; a useful office. Also in phr. for services rendered (orig. Mil.).
c. collect. pl. Friendly or professional assistance.
20. With of or possessive: A person's interest or advantage. Obs.
21. a. Assistance or benefit afforded by an animal or thing (or by a person as involuntary agent); the work which an animal or thing is made to do. Phr. to do service.
b. Of the limbs: Function, office.
22. a. The purpose or use to which a thing is put.
b. to stand (a person) in no service: to be of no use to. Obs.
23. Supply of the needs of (persons, occas. of things).
24. a. Serviceableness, utility. Now rare.
b. of service (predicatively): of use or assistance, useful, helpful. Const. to.
25. at one's service, at one's disposal, ready or available for one to use. Cf. 9c.
26. Permission to use; the loan of a thing for use.
  • V. Waiting at table, supply of food; hence, supply of commodities, etc.
27. a. The act of waiting at table or dishing up food; the manner in which this is done. Phrase, the service of the table (now arch.).
b. That which is served up or placed on the table for a meal; the food set before a person; an allowance or portion of food. Now rare.
c. A division of a meal served up at one time, a course. Also, a particular ‘dish’ or kind of food.
d. In the restaurant-car of a railway train, on a ship, etc.: the serving of a meal at one of a number of separate sittings, as first service, etc.
28. a. The furniture of the table; esp. a set of dishes and other utensils required for serving a particular meal. Often with defining word, as dinner, dessert, breakfast, tea service.
b. Similarly: A set of vessels for the altar, for the toilet, etc.
29. An administration or application (of something).
30. a. The supply or laying-on of gas, water, etc., through pipes from a reservoir; the apparatus of pipes, etc., by which this is done. Also applied to other facilities, such as electricity, waste disposal, etc., esp. provided for domestic use. Freq. pl.
b. attrib., as service-box, -pipe, etc.
c. = service-pipe (see b).
31. a. Provision (of labour, material appliances, etc.) for the carrying out of some work for which there is a constant public demand.
b. Expert advice or assistance given by manufacturers and dealers to secure satisfactory results from goods made or supplied by them; spec., the provision of maintenance or repair work to ensure the efficient running of a motor vehicle, etc.; a routine operation of examination and maintenance performed on a motor vehicle, etc.
c. Broadcasting. The supply of programmes by a particular broadcasting station.
d. pl. Econ. The section of the economy that supplies needs of the consumer but produces no tangible goods.
e. pl. The provision of petrol, refreshments, etc., for motorists in buildings constructed near to or beside a motorway or other major road; the group of buildings themselves.
32. Accommodation for conveyance or transit afforded by vehicles plying regularly on a route.
  • VI. Action of serving, in technical senses.
33. Law. a. The action or an act of serving (a writ, notice, etc.) upon a person. to accept service (of a writ): see ACCEPT v. 3.
b. Scots Law. The procedure for ascertaining and declaring the heir to a person deceased. A general service determines generally who is heir to another; a special service determines who is heir to a special estate.
34. Tennis (and kindred games). The act of ‘serving’ the ball or starting it in play; a particular player's manner of doing this; the ball served.
b. attrib., as service-box, -court, -line, -side, -wall.
35. Naut. Small cord, or the like, wound about a rope to protect it. (Cf. SERVE v.1 54.)
36. The action of covering a female animal. (Cf. SERVE v. 52.)
  • VII. attrib. and Comb. (See also 30b, 34b.)
37. Simple attrib., passing into adj. a. Belonging to the army, navy, or Air Force; military (opp. civilian); esp., employed on active service, as service ammunition, bullet, charge, company, rifle, etc. Also in pl.
b. Belonging to household service, the serving of meals, etc.
c. Of or pertaining to services (sense 31d), as service industry, occupation, sector, trade.


Selfless service is a commonly used term to denote a service which is performed without any expectation of result or award for the person performing it. It is also sometimes used to denote a service performed with no apparent 'earthly' result, but which may accrue results in a spiritual or heavenly realm after death, although in the pure sense of the term that would not qualify as a strictly 'selfless' action.

Religious significance

The idea of selfless service is an important concept in most religions. Because God is perceived as residing in the heart of others, serving other people is considered an essential devotional practice.


  • Forum Post mentioning the three forms of service as found in Sikhism.

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