Modal verbs and adverbs
The table below contains verbs and adverbs that you can
use to express the different degrees of certainty or modality of your
opinions or argument. It also provides you with some examples of how to
structure your sentence to use these words in your writing.
| Certainty of Conclusion
|| Modal Verbs/Adverbs
|| Statement of Claim
|| is, will, can
not, must, undoubtedly, always, never, definitely, clearly
|| It is certain
It seems clear that...
X is definitely...
|| should, would,
can, ought to, tends to, usually, likely, probably, regularly, majority,
generally, often, frequently, rarely
|| It appears probable...
It is usually the case that...
majority of cases...
The results suggest it is likely that...
|| May, might, could,
possible, conceivable, sometimes, occasionally, seldomly, perhaps,
maybe, uncertainly, minority
It is possible that...
It may be the case that...
Adapted from: Jordon, R. R. (1990) Academic Writing Course.
Edinburgh: Nelson Study Skills in English and Learning Assistance Centre,
University of Sydney (1992) Writing in an Academic Style.
Here are some examples of modality use in academic writing:
| It seems likely
that a species leaf structural characteristics influence their seasonal
water-tissue relations because
|| Low modality
- rather than 'it is the case', the author is less certain, 'it
seems likely it is the case'.
| Technology assessment can
be an effective tool to analyse the effect of a technology
on social and environmental issues, yet in practise
it can be used
to formalise and legitimise previously decided outcomes.
|| More moderate
expression of opinion than saying 'is'.
| Legal aid, by providing representation
and individual legal advice has the potential
to mitigate some of the entrenched inequality in regards
to access to justice.
|| Modality lowered
through the use of 'has the potential to' rather than merely 'it
| The large-scale treatment plant is the
most desirable option to provide for the processing and treatment
of wastewater for a 20 000 person population.
|| The opinion
expressed in this sentence is strong, however, it is more moderate
than saying '
is the only appropriate option
Ultimately, your opinion in academic writing must be based on the evidence
you have collected. The level of modality used to express your opinion
must match the level of certainty provided by your evidence. It
might be appropriate to make a high modality claim because evidence, from
multiple sources, backs up your opinion. Therefore, adjust the certainty
or modality you use to present your argument according to the quality
and amount of evidence supporting it.
Comments and questions should
be directed to Unilearning@uow.edu.au