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Which sentence sounds better to you:

(A) I have a strong foundation in this field.

(B) I have a solid foundation in this field.

(C) I have a strong background in this field.

(D) I have a solid background in this field.

I need to know which one would be the most common choice of an American?

I know well that these all are used and sound idiomatic for every English native speaker everywhere in the world because I read them all somewhere in some documents written by the natives. In other words, I need to know which combinations are used more; e.g. I need to discover that which one of the words "strong" or "solid" is used with the word "background" or "foundation".

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    Context? Second, this sounds almost like a proofreading question. I mean, which do you think is right? Or what difficulty do you have with the meanings of 'foundation' and 'background'. – user6951 Jan 6 '15 at 15:49
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    I prefer (A) and (D), but (B) and (C) are good enough that I have no problem with those, either. – J.R. Jan 6 '15 at 16:05
  • @J.R. It's strange that I prefer the opposite: "solid foundation" and "strong background". There might be an interesting question here if it could be rephrased to be something other than a proofreading question. – ColleenV Jan 6 '15 at 18:50
  • I am sure you know what I am trying to ask here! Anyway to be more useful for other visitors, let me clarify my question. My question is about some fixed English expressions which are in common use. I know well that these all are used and sound idiomatic for every English native speaker everywhere in the world; because I read them all somewhere in some documents written by the natives. In other words, I need to know which combinations are used more; e.g. I need to discover that which one of the words "strong" or "solid" is used with the word "background" or "foundation". – A-friend Jan 6 '15 at 19:43
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    See also my updated answer with specific results for all four phrases with 'the' instead of 'this'. Thanks. When we say we can't really answer your question, we can't--really. :) – user6951 Jan 6 '15 at 20:39
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Though I would not personally tend to use "solid background," the only real distinction that I would make is between background and foundation. That would guide my choice more strongly than frequency considerations.

If you have a strong background in an area of study, then you have broad knowledge of a variety of topics in that area, possibly quite advanced in some areas.

If you have a strong foundation in an area of study, you understand the fundamentals of that area, but you do not necessarily have knowledge of more advanced topics.

For instance, if you were applying for a job and wrote that you had a strong background in computer science, I would expect you to have worked in a computer science position at some point or to have some relatively advanced CS studies. If instead you told me that you had a strong foundation in CS, I would expect that you had studied thoroughly at a lower level or perhaps done related work in a position that was not explicitly computer science.

  • Thank you very much Jason Patterson. :) And what about solid foundation? – A-friend Jan 7 '15 at 9:21
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    @A-friend I likely wouldn't even notice if a person used "strong foundation" vs "solid foundation." I personally can't find even a very subtle difference between the two in any sense. I also wouldn't have a problem with "solid background;" it's just not what I would say. – Jason Patterson Jan 7 '15 at 16:44
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For
solid background in the field
strong background in the field
solid foundation in the field
strong foundation in the field (no results)

a Google Ngram gives the following for American English from 1970 to 2000:


enter image description here

However, since Ngrams are not reliable, and since strong foundation in a field is not necessarily "unidiomatic", and since American speakers who are trying to help ypu cannot agree: IT SHOULD BE NO SURPRISE THEN THAT WE CANNOT TELL YOU WHAT IS IDIOMATIC IN AM. ENGLISH.


More generally, Google Ngram gives the following for American English from 1980 to 2000:

enter image description here


However, Google Ngram gives ZERO results for all of the following

A) strong foundation in this field.

B) solid foundation in this field.

C) strong background in this field.

D) solid background in this field.

By the way, you can go to Google Ngram viewer and plug in your own words and phrases. But the results may not correspond to the specific usage you are asking.

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Solid foundation appears to be the most popular in American English, judging from this graph. However, the Ngram search doesn't distinguish between different meanings of these phrases, so it’s not a reliable guide by itself.

Here's one way to think about this: notice that when applied to a person’s education and prior experience, foundation and background are both metaphors, even though they're nearly-dead metaphors. Literally, a foundation is something solid that you build upon, such as the foundation for a house. Literally, a background is the part of a picture that contains scenery or context for the objects depicted in the foreground. The term solid foundation is used literally in construction, and metaphorically for many, many different things.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that solid foundation is the most common of the four and solid background is the least common. Solid foundation makes the most literal sense and solid background makes the least literal sense.

You asked which phrase is most common, and that’s hard to say for the reasons just explained. If you’re mainly interested in which is the best for describing a person’s education and prior experience as they relate to doing a new job, here is one native speaker’s view. While solid foundation makes the most sense, I find the word strong to have a slightly more positive connotation than solid, and to stand out a little better—maybe because it’s used less often. Overall, I'd say that solid background is the weakest of the four phrases, but they’re almost indistinguishable. Other people will perceive the same phrases slightly differently, of course.

Note that the most common phrase might not be the best. In fact, a more-common phrase can be weaker because it’s so common.

  • It is important to point out the context issue with NGrams, but the question as I understood it was which is most common, not which is most suitable in a CV or something similar. I do tend to avoid reading too much into things though. It gets me in to more trouble than being too literal ;) – ColleenV Jan 6 '15 at 20:54
  • @ColleenV Actually, that's how I read the question, too, but I just reread it and the first sentence asks "which sounds better?" Well, hopefully there's enough useful information here to help the OP with whatever he or she is doing. ;) – Ben Kovitz Jan 6 '15 at 20:58

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