the joy of not being sold anything

This message was written on an advertising panel.

Though I guess I get the meaning, the grammatical structure is not fully clear to me.

Is this using present progressive tense in passive voice?

Normally, I expect something like "to be + being + past participle". The form of "to be" is missed in this phrase. Can one skip the "to be" in this case, or am I totally wrong with my assumption?

I found some other phrases which appear to be quite similar:

  1. “I live in terror of not being misunderstood.” – Oscar Wilde

  2. “The Joy of Not Being Married” — The title of a book

The first seems to be same like the original example, but the second confuses me even more.

  • Welcome to ELL. :-) I believe that you will get a good answer soon. Meanwhile, here is a little hint: between the joy of cooking and the joy of to be cooking, I think you'd agree that the first one sounds better. Jun 27, 2014 at 20:45
  • So the original message means "I did not buy anything and now I am happy about it"?
    – exebook
    Apr 9, 2017 at 6:54

2 Answers 2



The Joy of Not Being Married

First, keep in mind that lots of books have titles like "The Joy of _" -- it is something of an idiom (from The Joy of Sex to The Joy of X (a book about math)...). Like most book titles, these titles aren't complete sentences: they're just stating the subject of the book, which in this case is "What Makes [Subject] Great."

The form is "The Joy of [word or phrase that functions as a noun]". So you have books like "The Joy of Cooking", where "cooking" is (as you know) a gerund (an action considered as an object, so it acts as a noun grammatically), or "The Joy of Not Working", which is about the positive aspects of retirement.

In English, "marrying" refers to the actual act of getting married. So instead the author uses "being married", where "married" by itself is a participle, a verb form that acts as an adjective. Put it together and "being married" means "the state of having a spouse" and acts as a noun. With "not," it's a book about how it's awesome to be not-married. Maybe why it's great to be single, maybe why it's great to be recently divorced, etc.


The Joy of Not Being Sold Anything

Again, this is a variation of the stock phrase. It would also help to point out that "being sold [a thing]" has the connotation of "being subject to someone's sales pitch" or "having someone try to sell you something." (See sell definition 4). So the ad is really just saying "Isn't it nice not to have to listen to a sales pitch here? Now please buy our product."

All this discussion aside, to actually answer the question you asked: you are correct that this is a sentence fragment. That's why "to be" is absent. (As opposed to what you might be used to seeing in full sentences, something like "He is being sold a donut.")

  • I found another exmaple. >"He hid behind a tree in order to not being hit by a plastic ball." Is "being hit" also a gerund here?
    – smartwepa
    Jun 29, 2014 at 9:18
  • "to not being hit by a plastic ball" does not sound grammatical to me. I think it would be more natural to say "He hid behind a tree in order to avoid being hit by a plastic ball" in which case 'being hit' is a gerund--it acts like a single thing, which serves as the direct object of the verb 'avoid'.
    – Tiercelet
    Jun 30, 2014 at 19:14

Actually, it seems like it uses a passive gerund in the genitive case. Joy is often put with a possessive noun, usually an activity, e.g. The joy of painting. The "of painting" in that phrase is itself a gerund, which is a type of participle, specifically the noun form of the verb.

In this case, the gerund (passive and genitive) is "Being sold", the direct object is "anything", and the "not" is, well, just a negative.

So I think where you went wrong is in assuming that being sold is a verb, when the entire phrase is, actually, completely devoid of real verbs.

Oh, and just out of curiosity, what have you seen with the structure "to be" + "being" + participle?

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