Let’s learn the main meanings of the verb servire in Italian and the difference between mi serve and ho bisogno di.
1) Servire = to serve
The verb servire means to serve, for example in restaurants or in a shop.
|I camerieri servono gli antipasti.||The waiters serve the appetizers.|
|Il commesso serve i clienti.||The salesperson serves the customers.|
2) Serve a = is for
The verb servire followed by a (or per) indicates that something serves a purpose, is helpful for doing something else. There is almost no difference between using a or per, however a it’s preferred when asking the purpose or in the expression non servire a niente be useless (lit. to be for nothing).
|A che cosa serve?||What is it for?|
|La penna serve a scrivere / serve per scrivere.||The pen is for writing.|
|Mentire non serve a niente.||Lying is useless.|
3) Non serve = not necessary
The negative form non serve alone or followed by a sentence means it’s not necessary / no need.
Note: The following sentence is introduced by che and has the verb in the subjunctive mood.
|No grazie, non serve.||No thank you, no need / it’s not necessary.|
|Andiamo in montagna. Il computer non serve.||We go to the mountains. The computer is not necessary.|
|Non serve che tu faccia la spesa.||No need for you to do the shopping.|
4) Mi serve = I need
The construction mi serve / mi servono means I need. It’s always followed by a noun, that is, the thing that is needed.
This construction is formed in the same way as the verb piacere (mi piace / mi piacciono), namely you need:
- The indirect object, expressed by an indirect pronoun (mi, ti, gli/le, ci, vi, gli) or a noun preceded by the preposition a (a Mario);
- the 3rd person (sg/pl) of servire, serve or servono, depending on whether what you need is one thing or many things;
- what you need (a noun).
Mi serve una penna. I need a pen.
Mi servono delle penne. I need pens.
In the following table you can see a couple of example and at the same time you can review the indirect pronouns. Remember that if you have a noun or a proper name, you need to use the preposition a (with article, if needed).
|Mi serve un quaderno.||I need a booklet.|
|Ti servono dei cuscini?||Do you need pillows?|
|A Fiona serve una forchetta.|
Le serve una forchetta.
|Fiona needs a fork.|
She needs a fork.
|A Daniel serve una nuova valigia.|
Gli serve una nuova valigia
|Daniel needs a new suitcase.|
He needs a new suitcase.
|Ci serve più tempo.||We need more time.|
|Vi serve aiuto?||Do you need help?|
|Ai miei genitori serve un avvocato.|
Gli serve un avvocato.
|My parents need a lawyer.|
They need a lawyer.
Difference between MI SERVE and HO BISOGNO DI
Mi serve and ho bisogno di have the same meaning, both means I need, and you can use them interchangeably.
The only difference is grammatically: Mi serve can be only followed by a noun, not by a verb. Avere bisogno di can be followed by a noun or a verb.
Mi serve una penna.
Ho bisogno di una penna.
Mi serve mangiare qualcosa.
Ho bisogno di mangiare qualcosa.
So, if you want to say that you need something, you can use both mi serve or ho bisogno di, it’s the same. But if you need to do something you can only use ho bisogno di.