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I have questions concerning the sentence "But the war isn’t being sold on these grounds.":

  1. What does the sentence mean?

  2. How are the word combinations "isn’t being sold" and "on these grounds" used in the sentence and how are they generally used?

  3. Where does the pronoun "these" refer to?

The context is the following:

Despite these dangers, there is a case for attacking isis. Part of it is humanitarian: Millions of people now live in a caliphate in which many women cannot leave their homes unless accompanied by a man, and religious minorities can be sold as slaves. Allowing isis to expand, and potentially threaten Jordan or Saudi Arabia, would produce misery on an epic scale, intensify the refugee crisis already roiling Europe, and destroy America’s reputation as the underwriter of Middle Eastern order.

But the war isn’t being sold on these grounds. The presidential candidates are not telling Americans that a greater short-term terrorist threat is the price they must pay to liberate oppressed Arabs, protect friendly regimes, and prevent a greater danger down the road. Instead, candidates are promising, at least implicitly, that if America intensifies its war, the terrorist threat will decrease.

The source is Why Attacking ISIS Won't Make Americans Safer where you can find even larger context if it is needed.

I have made my own research and I have my own suspicions what it could mean, but its meaning is still unclear for me. The most I want is an explanation in this specific case, but providing a clear, general reference links are also more than welcome.

  • books.google.com/ngrams/… – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 7 '16 at 12:10
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    Judging from how well-phrased your question is, I'm puzzled why you're puzzled. Is it the meaning of the word sold that puzzles you, or the construction "is not being sold"? Are you asking why the writer chose these instead of those to refer back to the reasons enumerated in the preceding paragraph? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 7 '16 at 12:15
  • @TRomano It's a good question and I think that several aspects contributed to my confusion: 1) I already found out that "to be sold on something" means that you are convinced of the merits of something and I found it to be weird that war would have been convinced of the merits of something. 2) I use the passive continuous tense very rarely and that's why the construction "is not being..." may have puzzled me a bit. 3) I have already studied long hours and it may have taken its toll on me. That may partly explain my confusion as well. – user522015 Feb 7 '16 at 12:56
  • @TRomano Originally I wanted to know whether "these" refers to the preceding paragraph or to the following paragraph or can it refer to the both paragraphs? But yes, your question suggestion is interesting as well because I'm not always sure whether I should use "these" or "those". Would it change the meaning of the sentence if "these" is replaced with "those"? – user522015 Feb 7 '16 at 12:58
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    Sell belongs to a class of transactional verbs that accept a direct and an indirect object. When recast to passive, the indirect object can be omitted, which might lead to some confusion. The war was sold (to somebody). The war was justified (to somebody). War is the direct object, not the indirect: They sold the war to us. Re these and those, it's a matter of the writer's perspective. I think of those as existing yonder, or what I see when looking back over my shoulder, so to speak. But the writer can use these to mean "the things I just now have spoken of". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 7 '16 at 13:04
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The verb to sell has the following meaning:

Persuade someone of the merits of: 'he sold the idea of making a film about Tchaikovsky.'

If you want to sell something, you have to convince other parties of the merits (advantages) of the product you are selling. The same logic applies to when you are selling your ideas or reasoning.

These is the determiner or demonstrative adjective which is used to refer to the things mentioned before. In your examples:

  1. Part of it is humanitarian: Millions of people now live in a caliphate in which many women cannot leave their homes unless accompanied by a man, and religious minorities can be sold as slaves.
  2. Allowing ISIS to expand, and potentially threaten Jordan or Saudi Arabia, would produce misery on an epic scale, intensify the refugee crisis already roiling Europe, and destroy America’s reputation as the underwriter of Middle Eastern order.

The above two points could be reasons (grounds) for the U.S. to attack ISIS. But the Presidential candidates are not using the above reasons (grounds) to sell their ideas on why ISIS should be attacked. Instead, they are selling the merit that the terrorist threat will decrease by attacking ISIS as a ground to attack ISIS.

As a side, to buy has the opposite meaning of to sell:

Accept the truth of: 'I am not prepared to buy the claim that the ends justify the means.'

When you say "I don't buy it," it could mean "I don't believe what you have just said."

Note: You need to capitalize isis as it is an acronym.

[Oxford Online Dictionary]

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"Sold" is often used for any type of convincing. "Grounds" are the foundations of an argument, here it's the reasons to go to war in the above paragraph.

Another sentence with the same meaning:

But these aren't the reasons they're giving us to justify this war.

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To "sell" someone an idea means to convince them. (can also add "on": "sell them on an idea") "I'm not sold on this yet" means "I need more convincing" (Think about bartering for goods in a marketplace, and haggling over a price.) "I'm not sold yet" means "You have not convinced me (to buy) yet.

"On these grounds" does not have to mean the actual battlefield. It can mean "reason" "I'm filing for divorce on grounds of adultery" Not having a witness to a robbery: "This is grounds for dismissal of the charges"

The war even might not be an actual war, it could mean: argument, debate, or just a friendly discussion. It could also refer to a large disagreement between many people who are not even speaking (or fighting) Or it could actually refer to a war in the literal sense.

"But the war isn’t being sold on these grounds.”

I can NOT convince people to fight for these reasons" or "We should try harder to make other people understand why this is worth fighting for"

Also a few extras: "I do not like what you are selling.", can mean you do not agree with someone else's opinion. Tone could imply that you are offended about the concept, and with they would not speak of it in your presence. This can be reinforced with: "Why don't you go try to sell that (bad word) somewhere else!" or..."sell it TO someone else" (preferably elsewhere.)

If you actually agree with "what someone is selling": "You are preaching to the choir" (Does not have to have religious meaning.) would imply that "You don't have to keep trying so hard to convince me, I already agree" Preaching= telling people what is "right", "correct" and "justice".(Just). A preacher/priest/minister/holy man/rabbi/imam/ insert other religious leader's title.. Being "in the choir" would mean you already attend the church/temple/mosque (because you sing there) And you are not some ordinary person on the street who needs to be directed there. It is like saying: "Yes, I attend every service, you do not have to keep telling me what is said there, I heard it from the same place you did." Kind of like telling the skinny homeless beggar that he should go get some food, I'm sure he knows he needs it. You did not need to tell him.

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