I encountered this phrase: ...a sound understanding of [something]

and here are my questions:

  1. Why is the indefinite article used for the uncountable noun "understanding"?

  2. What is the origin of this phrase? I'm trying to understand the meaning of "sound" in the phrase

  • Please look up undestand and sound in a good dictionary. See if that helps to start with. – Kris Apr 8 '15 at 5:33
  • 1
    "Sound", in this context, means solid, strong, reliable, free from mistakes, of good judgement. (A slightly different meaning is "of good health".) – Hot Licks Apr 8 '15 at 12:31
  • I'm just wondering if "Silent" could be an opposite for "Sound" in this context? :) – Warlock Apr 8 '15 at 14:43

A Sound understanding implies a thorough grasp of something. 'Understanding' can be both countable and uncountable noun, depending on the meaning or context.

In this context, understanding implies the ability to grasp or ability to infer.This is is a countable noun.

On the other hand, if we consider the sentence: 'She have always shown much understanding since she found out about my divorce'

Here, the understanding implies sympathy and in this context, it is an uncountable noun.


"Understanding" is the gerund (noun form) of the verb "to understand". Gerunds are countable, and so therefore "understanding" is countable. It may not be common to find them in countable situations, but they are.

We were bothered by the noise from all the comings and goings in the stairwell.
Scoldings are rarely effective for obstinate children.

"Sound" is an adjective in this phrase, meaning "thorough", "firm", or "stable".

I can make my own decisions; I am of sound mind.

  • Just a little bit confused. [uncountable, singular] understanding (of something) the knowledge that somebody has about a particular subject or situation oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/… – Warlock Apr 8 '15 at 14:36
  • @Warlock Look at #4 of the list in your link. It is exactly the situation in your question and is presented as countable. – Cord Apr 8 '15 at 15:17

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