I am confused: how to build sentences with the word überschätzt?

I want to say:

"Fifty Shades of Grey" is overrated / is an overrated book.

Which of the following are correct/wrong, and why?

"Fifty Shades of Grey" ist ein überschätzter Buch.
"Fifty Shades of Grey" wird ein überschätzter Buch.
"Fifty Shades of Grey" ist überschätzt.
"Fifty Shades of Grey" wird überschätzt.

  • What about "gets overrated" in English? – user unknown Aug 10 '15 at 0:44
  • You typically use "etwas wird überschätzt". Apart from that, this is a translation request, and as such off-topic. – Burki Aug 10 '15 at 15:10

First, to get this out of the way: Since Buch is neutral, it's ein überschätztes Buch, not ein überschätzter Buch. Even after this correction, only two variants are correct, idiomatic ways to call a book overrated in German:

  • "FSoG wird überschätzt." (This is the normal idiomatic way of saying it.)
  • (dubious) "FSoG ist ein überschätztes Buch." (Definitely not the normal way of saying it, but I guess it's possible if you absolutely want to use überschätzt attributively.)

The reason for this, in a single sentence, is as follows: The German point of view on this is that people overrate a book, but being overrated is not an inherent quality of the book. Read on if you are interested in the gory details.

Whereas the attributive use of überschätzt is just unidiomatic and slightly weird, it is definitely wrong to put it as a stative passive:

  • (wrong) "FSoG ist überschätzt."

(In German, that is. In English the boundaries between dynamic and stative passive aren't as clear because they are formed identically.)

This is wrong because it is blocked by the first variant.

Finally, the last remaining variant is based on the already dubious second one, but says something else:

  • (dubious; different meaning) "FSoG wird ein überschätztes Buch."

To the limited extent that anyone would say that, it would mean: "FSoG is becoming an overrated book."


We can verify what I wrote in Google's corpus of digitalised German books. (Note that I formed my opinion first. I didn't fit it to the result of a possibly flawed experiment.)

Here you can see that the stative passive wird überschätzt (sentence 1 in my ordering) is at least five times as common as ist überschätzt. The latter could be a dynamic passive (sentence 3), but as you can see, nowadays the present perfect stative passive ist überschätzt worden accounts for most uses. These should really be subtracted from the second n-gram. When fed correctly, the n-gram viewer does this for us. (We shouldn't add ist überschätzt worden to wird überschätzt because then we would also have to add ist überschätzt gewesen to ist überschätzt to be fair. We'll look at these separately below.)

Finally, the n-gram viewer can also divide the top curve by the bottom curve to give us usage ratios: final result. As you can see, the dynamic passive construction is currently about 10 times as common as the stative passive and the predicative adjectival use that happens to look the same.

What is interesting, however, is the fact that this appears to be a relatively recent phenomenon. Clearly, calling books overrated is a relatively recent idiom, at least in German. Apparently the way it is used is still sharpening, though it also looks like there were some setbacks. My guess is that these are due to distortions caused mainly by poor translations from English.

[Edited: I just realised that I promised something above and never did it. Here it is.]

Let's also compare the frequencies of the present perfects of "wird überschätzt" and "ist überschätzt". They are "ist überschätzt worden" and "ist überschätzt gewesen", respectively. The advantage of comparing these is that unlike "ist überschätzt", neither can occur in any unintended grammatical construction. The disadvantage is that it's not a very natural tense for calling a book overrated. The result could hardly be clearer: "ist überschätzt gewesen" doesn't even exist in the corpus!

Looking at the counter-examples

A quick scan through Google Books hits for "ist überschätzt" confirms this. The majority of hits is actually irrelevant due to a comma that is ignored by Google Books search but not by the n-gram viewer: "ist, überschätzt". As we already know, the remainder consists mostly of instances of "ist überschätzt worden".

Much more interesting are the few genuine cases of "ist überschätzt". I'll list the first few (for me right now):

  • "KONSENS IST ÜBERSCHÄTZT" - a chapter heading in a 2011 cheaply produced motivational/self-help book. Most likely a failed translation of "consensus is overrated".
  • "Die Lautung ist überschätzt, insofern sie nicht das Wesen der Sprache ausmacht [...]". - From an article by someone with a Slavic name in a 2007 collection of texts about Heidegger. Academic texts are often produced by non-native speakers and very rarely receive proper editing.
  • "das ist echt. .. ich finde das ist überschätzt". - This is interesting because it is an example of colloquial speech that was used for academic purposes and therefore didn't receive the normal (for German editing - English editors don't do this) grammar correction treatment. From a 2014 book on start-ups.
  • "Kontrolle ist überschätzt, Zutrauen unterschätzt." - A quotation ascribed to the founder/owner of a German chain of chemist's shops in a 2013 book on company philosophies. Most likely a mis-translation of "control is overrated", possibly produced in the heat of a discussion.

After this there were several pages without any examples, so I gave up. The important thing is that whereas the other hits (which involved commas, periods, semicolons or the word worden) included many examples of good prose, the above four can all easily be explained as grammatical errors. However, there is a pattern that suggests that in German business lingo, which often features weird Americanisms, the stative passive construction with überschätzt could actually be considered grammatical. The caveat here is that this kind of business lingo is generally considered ungrammatical by editors and the wider population.

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  • +10 for the extremely detailed analysis. – Jan Aug 28 '15 at 9:57

There are three possibilies:

  1. In the first sentence the word "überschätzt" is an adjective that decribes the subject "book". Because it is "ein/das Buch" and not "einer/der Buch" the adjective is declined with "s".

    "Fifty Shades of Grey" ist ein überschätztes Buch.

  2. In the second sentence is überschätzt a verb that decribes the action. The aktive form would be: jemand überschätzt etwas. In your example the verb form is passive ("Vorgangspassiv"): etwas wird (von jemandem) überschätzt.

    "Fifty Shades of Grey" wird überschätzt.

  3. In the third sentence "ist überschätzt" is a decription of the state of the subject "Buch" ("Zustandspassiv"). Das Buch wurde von jemandem in der Vergangenheit überschätzt, das heißt, das Buch ist überschätzt.

    "Fifty Shades of Grey" ist überschätzt.

Reference: Was ist die Unterschied zwischen "Bildung WIRD überschatzt" und "Bildung IST überschätzt"?

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  • 3 ist so ungewöhnlich, dass es fast schon falsch ist. Überschätzt ist kein Adjektiv, sondern das Partizip Perfekt von überschätzen. Deshalb handelt es sich um eine Passivkonstruktion, und die wird im Deutschen nicht mit sein gebildet, sondern mit werden: "Fifty Shades of Grey" wird überschätzt. (Ich war mir zwar 100% sicher, hab aber extra noch mit Googles n-gram-Viewer überprüft, dass ist überschätzt viel seltener als wird überschätzt ist und zudem auch noch meist von worden gefolgt wird.) – user2183 Aug 10 '15 at 21:03
  • Oops, the most important part again in English: 3 is wrong because in German this is expressed with a passive construction. As such it requires werden, not sein: "... wird überschätzt". – user2183 Aug 10 '15 at 21:04
  • @HansAdler: I would welcome a full answer made of this. I currently don't see how this pattern is different from Die Suppe ist ausgeschüttet or Das Brot ist gebacken, even if I would append worden in both cases for clarity. The participle can be used to describe a state, which has been achieved. – guidot Aug 11 '15 at 14:30
  • @guidot: I wrote one. You can run the n-gram viewer statistics in it with ausgeschüttet and gebacken instead of überschätzt. You will see marked differences. – user2183 Aug 11 '15 at 19:44
  • The answer in the reference is misleading because it doesn't mention that "Bildung ist überschätzt" is very unidiomatic. Neither phrase appears in print, but on Google the ratio is 290 : 5. The 290 wird hits consist mostly of edited texts; the 5 ist hits consist of Iris' very reference and 4 hits in chat or forums. – user2183 Aug 11 '15 at 19:56

The first answer could answer all but actually to make it easy:

"Fifty Shades of Grey" wird überschätzt.

("Fifty Shades of Grey" is overrated.)

'Something is overrated.' so you actually mark the name "Fifty Shades of Grey" as overrated.

"Fifty Shades of Grey" ist ein überschätztes Buch.

("Fifty Shades of Grey" is an overrated book.)

In this case you say "Fifty Shades of Grey" is a book and the book is overrated. So you bind a name to a noun and give the book an adjective.

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  • 1
    "Fifty Shades of Grey" ist überschätzt. and "Fifty Shades of Grey" wird überschätzt. are both translated with "Fifty Shades of Grey" is overrated. – Iris Aug 10 '15 at 8:58
  • überschätzt i an verb and that means you cant say in german ist überschätzt. like "michael ist laufen" but there you can use this-> "Micheal ist überbewertet"<- thats an adjective and give micheal the property overrated. ok the sentence is in the presence but you could say "michael ist grün"(adjective). and can not put a verb. for this verbs has an different time formats like unregular verbs in english. in this case: "michael überschätzt." -> "michael overrate." if you say ist then you mean "Micheal is overrate." and that is wrong and this case of "wird" that means "Micheal would overrated" – ProJaCore Aug 10 '15 at 9:21
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    I don't understand your explanation @ProJaCore. Do you try to tell me that my comment is wrong? "Fifty Shades of Grey" ist überschätzt. is correct German, cf. my answer and the reference. – Iris Aug 10 '15 at 10:33
  • look at this table: http:/www.verbformen.de/konjugation/u:berscha:tzen.htm – ProJaCore Aug 10 '15 at 16:35
  • The real explanation why "ist überschätzt" doesn't work is that in German, überschätzt doesn't function as an adjective but as a participle that occurs in the idiomatic phrase "wird überschätzt", which has the form of a dynamic passive. This 'blocks' the static passive construction "ist überschätzt", i.e. the latter is not used because it's too close to the established way of saying exactly the same thing. (Similar to how you wouldn't say "This book is overestimated" in English, but the effect is stronger.) – user2183 Aug 11 '15 at 19:49

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