The article introduces and discusses a computer-assisted study that seeks to shed light on the frequency and use of the central modal verbs (can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, would) in research article (further: RA) abstracts in applied linguistics published in the Inner and Outer Circles of English, respectively. The study is informed by the construal of the Circles of English that are comprised of the Inner Circle, where English is spoken as the mother tongue (for example, the United Kingdom), the Outer Circle, where it is used as a second language in the former British colonies (for instance, Hong Kong, Malaysia, etc.), and the Expanding Circle (e.g., Japan), where English is spoken and taught as a foreign language (Kachru 48). In the construal of the Circles of English, the Outer Circle is regarded as a heterogeneous sociolinguistic space with fluid boundaries (Higgins 615) that affects the frequency and use of the central modal verbs in a variety of textual genres (Lee and Collins 501). Against this background, the study aims at identifying and analysing the frequency of the central modal verbs in a corpus of RA abstracts in applied linguistics published by international peer reviewed journals associated with the Outer Circle (one journal published in Hong Kong and one in Malaysia, respectively) and the Inner Circle of English (one journal published in the United Kingdom). The results of the quantitative analysis of the corpus indicate that the most frequent modal verbs in the entire corpus are can and may, which function as hedging devices in the journals that are associated with the Outer and Inner Circles of English, respectively. These findings are discussed in the article through the prism of the construal of the Circles of English.