False positives and negatives in the German passive analysis

This article gives an overview of the cases in which the Yoast SEO passive voice assessment for German 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 German

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 German looks for sentences containing a passive auxiliary and a past participle (a passive verb).

Passive auxiliaries are words such as ‘werden’, ‘bekommen’ or ‘kriegen’ and they function as ‘helper words’ to the main passive verb.

Past participles are the main verbs of a passive form. They are verb forms such as ‘geschrieben’ or ‘verkauft’ that usually start with a prefix like ge-, er- or ver- and and in a suffix like -t or -en.

False positives in Yoast SEO for German

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

1. When a sentence contains a past participle, as well as the word ‘werden’ as a main verb.

The word ‘werden’ has two meanings. It can be used as an auxiliary verb when forming passive sentences, such as in the example below.

“In dieser Zeit wurde eine bestimmte Kultur gelebt.”

Or, it can be used as a main verb meaning ‘to become’:

“Rund 2.500 Jahre ist es her, dass Siddharta Gautama, der zum Buddha wurde, gelebt hat.”

The passive voice assessor cannot distinguish between the two uses. As a result, it will incorrectly mark a sentence such as the one about Buddha as containing a passive.

2. When a word that can be a passive verb also has additional meanings.

There are several cases when a word that looks exactly like a passive verb can combine with an auxiliary and result in a false positive.

For example, some passive verbs can also function as adjectives, such as the word ‘gezielt’ in the following sentence:

“Deswegen bekommen Verkäufer auch regelmäßige Trainings, in denen sie gezielt an der richtigen Attitude arbeiten.”

Some third person singular and Futur I Aktiv Indikativ verbs can also have the same form as passive verbs. Therefore, sentences such as the ones below will also result in false positives:

“Das kann zu einer echten Lawine werden, die uns überrascht.”

“Das werde ich behalten.”

In all of these cases, the passive voice assessor cannot tell the difference between those sentences, and sentences where words like ‘überrascht’ are used as passives, such as this one:

“Ich wurde von ihm überrascht.”

3. When a sentence contains both a passive auxiliary and a word that is not a verb but starts with ge-, er-, ver-, ent-, be-, her-, über- or zer-, and ends with -t.

We’ve tried our very best to make sure words such as ‘Gefecht’ are not categorized as a passive participle. However, our very extensive list can never cover all exceptions. Please let us know if you’ve found a missing word, and we will gladly add it to our exception list.

4. When a sentence contains both a passive auxiliary as well as a verb ending in -iert that is not a passive verb.

Verbs ending in -iert are often passive verbs, such as in the following example:

“Ich würde gratuliert.”

However, they can also be third person singular verbs in the present tense, such as:

“Wenn Dich dieses Angebot wirklich interessiert, würde ich auf die website gehen.”

As the passive voice assessor treats most verbs ending with -iert as passive verbs, the second type of sentence will result in a false positive.

5. When a passive auxiliary and a participle occur in different clauses which are not separated by a conjunction.

When an auxiliary and a participle occur in different clauses, such as in the example below, they can never form a passive.

“Deswegen bekamen Verkäufer auch regelmäßige Trainings, in denen sie an der richtigen Attitüde gearbeitet haben.”

If the two clauses are separated by a conjunction such as ‘aber’, the passive voice assessor will know that the auxiliary and the participle do not belong together.

Example: “Deswegen bekamen Verkäufer auch regelmäßige Trainings, aber darin haben sie nicht an der richtigen Attitüde gearbeitet.”

However, if there is no conjunction, such as in the first example, the assessor will mistake that sentence for a passive.

False negatives in Yoast SEO for German

1. Passive sentences with a participle starting with ge-, er-, ver-, ent-, be-, her-, über- or zer-, and ending in -st .

To avoid marking many second person present tense verbs as passive participles, we’ve decided to exclude all verbs ending with -st (except for those ending in -sst, e.g. ‘abgeblasst’) as a participle. Unfortunately, this means that the few participles that do end in -st and that we haven’t added to the exception list yet, won’t be found.

2. Passive sentence with an irregular participle.

Our list with irregular passive participles includes all irregular participles (not ending in -t) we could find. However, we are quite sure we might have missed some of them. Please let us know if you found any passive participles that are not detected.

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