False positives and negatives in the French passive analysis

This article gives an overview of the cases in which the Yoast SEO passive voice assessment for French will yield incorrect results. We always strive for results that are as accurate as possible. However, because of the irregularities in human language, it will never be possible to get our analysis 100% right.

Below you find a list of cases in which our analysis will either incorrectly detect passive voice in sentences that aren’t really passive (false positives) or in which it will fail to detect passive voice in sentences that are actually passive (false negatives).

It’s not necessary to know about all of those cases to write a good text. Rather, this overview is intended to give you some clues in case you’re wondering why certain sentences are not correctly detected by the passive voice analysis.

Passive voice in French

To help you understand the false positives and negatives, here is a quick explanation of how the passive voice assessment works. The passive voice assessor in French looks for sentences containing a passive auxiliary and a past participle (a passive verb).

Passive auxiliaries are formed using a form of the verb ‘être’. They are ‘helper verbs’ to the main passive verb.

Past participles are the main verbs of a passive form. They are verb forms such as ‘acheté’ or ‘écrit’.

False positives in Yoast SEO for French

The passive voice assessment will incorrectly detect a passive voice in the following cases:

1. When a sentence has a passive auxiliary and a participle, but those words serve different functions in that particular sentence.

For example, in a sentence like “C’est très bien animé”, the words ‘est’ and ‘animé’ form a passive voice. However, it can happen that these two words occur in a sentence together but with different functions:

“Il n’est pas vivant comme dans le dessin animé.”

In this sentence, the word ‘est’ describes a property of the subject, ‘il’ (“Il n’est pas vivant.”). The word ‘animé’ is an adjective describing the noun ‘dessin’. Therefore, ‘est’ and ‘animé’ do not belong together and cannot form a passive voice. However, the passive voice assessor does not know this and incorrectly analyses the sentence as containing a passive.

Below is another example of a case when two words that could form a passive do not actually belong together:

“La devise est L’union fait la force.”

In this sentence, ‘fait’ is part of the title in italics, L’union fait la force. ‘Est’ is the main verb of the sentence, linking the title to the subject (‘la devise’). The passive voice detector cannot tell apart such uses of the words ‘est’ and ‘fait’ from ones where they do actually form a passive, such as in “Le gâteau est fait par ma soeur.”. 

2. When a word that can be a passive auxiliary or participle also has additional meanings.

For example, the word ‘épuisé’ can be used as a passive verb in sentences like: “Les ressources ont été épuisées par les utilisateurs.“. However, in other sentences, like “Je suis épuisée.”, ‘épuisée’ may look like a passive, but in fact it is an adjective describing the state of a person (being exhausted).

Another example is the following sentence, where the word ‘soit’ is incorrectly analysed as a conjugated form of‘ ‘être’, and thus as a passive auxiliary:

“Les différentes branches de la psychologie se distinguent soit par la méthode utilisée, soit par l’activité humaine considérée.”

In this sentence, ‘soit’ is not a form of ‘être’ but a conjunction meaning ‘either…or’. ‘Considerée’ is an adjective describing ‘l’activité humaine’, rather than a passive verb. The passive voice assessor cannot tell apart such sentence from the ones where ‘soit’ and ‘considerée’ do form a passive together, such as “Il faut que ce soit considérée”.

False negatives in Yoast SEO for French

The passive voice assessment will fail to detect a passive voice in the following cases:

1. When the passive verb is a rare irregular verb.

The irregular participles are based on an extensive list of verbs. Even though the list contains many verbs, it does not cover all irregular verbs in French. Therefore, it is possible that the assessment will not detect some rare passive verbs. Please let us know if you’ve found a missing word, and we will gladly add it to our list.

2. When a word has more meanings than a passive verb, and another meaning is much more common than the passive verb meaning.

Example 1: the word ‘tu’ is much more likely to occur with the meaning of ‘you’, than as the passive form of ‘taire’.

Example 2: the word ‘enceinte’ is much more likely to occur as an adjective meaning ‘pregnant’, than as a passive form of ‘enceindre’.

The passive voice assessment excludes such words when looking for participles, because otherwise it would result in too many false positives.

3. When a passive is formed with the auxiliary ‘c’est’.

C’est’ is much more likely to be followed by a word that looks like a passive verb but isn’t one, than by an actual passive verb. For example, the sentence “C’est parfait.” is much more likely to mean “it is perfect” (where ‘parfait’ is an adjective) than “it is perfected” (where ‘parfait’ is a perfect verb). Therefore, the passive voice assessor excludes ‘c’est’ when looking for passive auxiliaries.

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