Use of Core Modal Verbs in Academic Writing of Thai EFL Students
Keywords:modal verbs, academic writing, hedging, discussion essays, semantic functions
Modal verbs, as one of modality devices, play an important role in academic writing and argument. To gain insights into the use of modal verbs in academic writing of Thai EFL students, the in-depth analysis of 15 discussion essays written by the third-year English majors at one public university in Thailand was carried out. It focused specifically on the nine core modal verbs (can, could, may, might, will, would, shall, should and must) and examined their frequencies and semantic functions. The data analysis employed Sketch Engine, a corpus concordance, and drew on categories of semantic functions. The analysis revealed that can, will, may and should were the top four frequently favored items, respectively while must, could, would and might were found to be exceptionally underused. As for semantic functions, the most dominant meaning was “possibility” expressed by can. The results indicate that Thai students’ academic writing skills need to be significantly improved, particularly their ability to use modal verbs strategically in their essays. The curriculum design for academic writing needs to emphasize both syntactic structure and semantic functions of modal verbs and encompass activities urging students to practice using these modals systematically and purposefully.
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