Passive voice

Last update: 11 April, 2017

The content analysis of Yoast SEO assesses whether or not you use passive voice. Passive voice is a grammatical construction. In this article, we will explain what the passive voice is and why we think you should avoid it. Next to that, we’ll discuss a few exceptional cases in which Yoast SEO wrongfully diagnoses the passive voice.

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What is passive voice?

Yoast SEO and Yoast SEO Premium currently supports the passive voice analysis only for the English and the German language.

Passive voice occurs if the noun or noun phrase that would be the object of an active sentence (such as Yoast SEO calculates your SEO score) appears as the subject of a sentence with passive voice ( The SEO score is calculated by Yoast SEO). In figure 1, we give more examples of passive voice and give better alternatives.

Passive voice Better alternative
This product can be bought in our webshop. Customers can buy this product in our webshop.
The bags are checked by a security employee. A security employee checks the bags.
The employees are informed about their financial contribution. The manager informs his employees about their financial contribution.
All our posts are checked by a colleague. A colleague checks all our posts.

Figure 1: use of passive voice

Why should you avoid passive voice?

If you want to write an article which is nice and easy to read, you should try to avoid passive voice. In sentences with passive voice, it remains unclear who or what is acting. This results in very distant writing. Texts using a lot of passive voice tend to be hard and unattractive to read. Avoid using (as much as you can) the passive voice altogether.

In some cases, it can be quite hard to avoid passive voice. If you are writing a manual for example, you will probably not be able to do without passive voice.

False positives in Yoast SEO for English

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

1. When sentences contain a predicative expression.

When a predicative expression precedes a word ending in -ed or an irregular verb: If a URL returns a 410, Google is far more certain you removed the URL on purpose and it should thus remove that URL from its index. → The verb ‘is’ functions as a copula connecting ‘certain’ to ‘Google’. However, the passive voice assessor will analyze it as the auxiliary verb indicating a passive voice in combination with ‘removed’.

That’s almost 9 years ago, and I have contributed to almost every major version since. → ‘’s’ is the copula connecting ‘that’ to the predicative expression ‘almost 9 years ago’. However, the passive voice assessor will interpret it as the auxiliary verb indicating a passive voice in combination with ‘contributed’. When a word ending in -ed or an irregular can function both as a passive participle as well as a predicative expression: You don’t just optimize for Google search, then boom you’re done. → ‘done’ functions as a predicative expression, but the passive voice assessor will analyze it as an irregular passive participle. This is the case because the verb form ‘done’ can function as both. That argument is flawed. → ‘flawed’ functions as a predicative expression, but the passive voice assessor will analyze it as a passive participle. This is the case because the verb form ‘flawed’ can function as both.

2. When sentences contain a form of ‘to get’ and a word ending in -ed or irregular verb that can function both as a participle as well as an adverb.

As a result of that, a lot of blog posts will ‘get lost’ in a structure that is too flat. → It can be debated whether ‘lost’ functions as a predicative expression or an irregular passive participle in this sentence. Nevertheless, the passive voice assessor will analyze it as an irregular passive participle.

3. When a text between quotes is incorrectly analyzed as part of a sentence.

There is a page saying “content not found → In this sentence, ‘is’ functions as a main verb (meaning ‘to be present’). However, the passive voice assessor will interpret it as the auxiliary verb indicating a passive voice in combination with ‘found’.

4. When an auxiliary verb is followed by the noun ‘left’, that is directly preceded by an adjective.

The content part of this website is structured right, but the sidebar on the very left is using a reversed structure. → In this sentence, the content assessor will interpret the noun ‘left’ as an irregular passive participle. Because of the combination with the preceding verb ‘is’, this sentence will be marked as passive.

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. Sentences containing a word that is not a verb, but starts with ge-, er-, ver-, ent-, be-, her-, über- or zer-, and ends with a -t.

These false positives will only show up when the sentence also contains an auxiliary. We’ve tried our very best to make sure these words 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.

2. Sentences containing a passive auxiliary, followed by a subordinate clause without conjunction but with a participle.

In those sentences, the participle in the subordinate clause is analyzed as belonging to the passive auxiliary in the main clause.
Example: Deswegen bekamen Verkäufer auch regelmäßige Trainings, in denen sie an der richtigen Attitude gearbeitet haben.

3. Compound sentences containing both the copula ‘werden’ as well as a participle.

We cannot distinguish between the copula ‘werden’ and passive auxiliary ‘werden’. Therefore, the copula is analyzed as a passive auxiliary, and the (past) participle is analyzed as a passive participle. As a result, the sentence will be marked as passive.
Example: Rund 2.500 Jahre ist es her, dass Siddharta Gautama, der zum Buddha wurde, gelebt hat.

4. Sentences containing both a passive auxiliary as well as a adjective/adverb that can also function as a participle.

In those cases, the adjective or adverb is interpreted as a participle, because we cannot distinguish between for example ‘gezielt’ as a participle and ‘gezielt’ as a adverb or adjective. As a result, the sentence will be marked as passive.
Example: Deswegen bekommen Verkäufer auch regelmäßige Trainings, in denen sie gezielt an der richtigen Attitude arbeiten.

5. Compound sentences containing both an auxiliary, as well as a third person singular verb starting with ge-, er-, ver-, ent-, be-, her-, über- or zer-.

Verbs starting with ge-, er-, ver-, ent-, be-, her-, über- or zer- often have the same form for both the participle as well as the third person singular in the present tense.
Example: Das kann zu einer echten Lawine werden, die uns überrascht.

6. Sentences containing a Futur I Aktiv Indikativ of a verb starting with ge-, er-, ver-, ent-, be-, her-, über- or zer-.

For verbs starting with ge-, er-, ver-, ent-, be-, her-, über- and zer-, the Futur I Aktiv Indikativ and the Präsens Vorgangspassiv Indikativ are entirely the same. Unfortunately, we cannot distinguish between those two forms.
Example: Das werde ich behalten.

7. Sentences containing both a passive auxiliary as well as a verb ending in -iert that is not a participle.

Verbs ending in -iert can be a (passive) participle as well as a third person singular in the present tense. Therefore, if a sentence contains a passive auxiliary and a verb ending in -iert, it will sometimes be incorrectly marked as passive.
Example: Wenn Dich dieses Angebot wirklich interessiert, würde ich auf die website gehen.

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 are not 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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