What is the correct version of this common phrase?

  1. First come, first serve

  2. First come, first served

Gramatically, I believe 2. is the correct form. However, it seems that 1. is commonly employed in spoken and even written English.

  • "First come" is the unsaid person/subject. The person arriving first is being served first. The person first arriving is not going the first to serve. It's not tennis.
    – Chris
    Aug 20, 2012 at 23:58

2 Answers 2


The second is correct. It is a form of "Those who come first are served first."

  • 11
    I don't think that's a great explanation; I mean, the phrase is also a form of "He who comes first is served first", but we don't say *"First comes, first served." The key is that come and served are both past-participle forms; I think the original full form was something more like "He who is first come, is first served", or more briefly "First come is first served." Since we no longer use to be come that way (we now say to have come), that parallelism was lost, which I guess explains the modern variant with bare serve.
    – ruakh
    Aug 20, 2012 at 18:34
  • @ruakh: Very well said.
    – Jim
    Aug 21, 2012 at 3:49

As I have always been under the impression it is the former "First come, first serve", I have just google-searched the phrase.

The search returns most results confirming @Michael Blaustein's answer, with websites like Wikipedia containing the phrase "First Come, First Served" and so it seems this is the correct, original form.

You can also notice a few entries using "First come, first serve" (without the 'd') on forums and in newspaper articles and titles which suggests, as I have come to know, this version is also commonly used.

  • 2
    Yes, 'first serve' is common; because the phrase is commonly misunderstood. Congratulations on becoming one who knows the difference! ;-)
    – Jim
    Aug 21, 2012 at 3:48

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