Document Type


Date of Degree Completion

Winter 2019

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Charles X. Li

Second Committee Member

Penglin Wang

Third Committee Member

Natalie Lefkowitz


The morpheme order studies have long prevailed in the field of second language acquisition. However, these studies are often undermined by their extent and focus on a limited number of morphemes. Thus, the present study extends the scope of morphemes to include modal verbs within other verbal morphemes and studies the order of their acquisition. Discourse Completion Tests (DCTs) were used to examine a total of twenty-seven ESL learners from a wide range of L1 backgrounds: Japanese, Arabic, Chinese, Thai, Spanish, Turkish, Urdu, and Vietnamese. The study reveals a universal pattern in ESL learners’ acquisition of English verb morphology. The study also finds that the first language backgrounds of learners have influenced the accuracy results of morphemes. These findings are discussed in light of the Full Transfer/Full Access Hypothesis. Overall, the study highlights the early development of English modal verbs by second language learners.