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I am having trouble understanding what is the difference between verpassen and verfehlen.

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    Typically, verpassen is missing something in time (by being too late), and verfehlen is missing something in space (by aiming to high, too low, too short, etc.). – Kilian Foth May 17 '17 at 6:13
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Both etw. verpassen and etw. verfehlen translate to English miss sth. However, they are used in different contexts:

einen Zug/Bus etc. verpassen

= miss a train/bus etc.

ein Ziel verfehlen

= miss a goal/target

Verpassen can also be used with people, (jmd. verpassen). It also translates to miss sb. but only in the sense of "failing to reach sb." and not in a sense of feeling the absence of sb, which in German is jmd. vermissen.

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    As a hint, verpassen literally means people/things passed each other without touching (or even seeing), while verfehlen focuses on der Fehler done by missing a set goal. – Janka May 16 '17 at 17:35
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    @Janka Well, if you shoot an arrow and miss the target people would say Ich habe die Zielscheibe verfehlt, although verpasst would be okay, too, I guess. – Adrian May 16 '17 at 17:38
  • Thanks for the answer. Hi sorry if i am also to venture into a grammar question, but why is "Ich habe die Zielscheibe verfehlt" and not " Ich habe die Zielscheibe verfehlen" ? – Lor Dan May 16 '17 at 17:42
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    Because Ich is 1st person singular, which requires to conjugate the verb accordingly, while verfehlen is the infinitive. But you should ask another question for that. – Janka May 16 '17 at 18:00
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The two words, verpassen and verfehlen, both mean to "miss." But in slightly different ways.

"Verpassen" is to let something "pass" or get by, that you should have been able to get. One would use this to refer to a missed meeting with a person, or a deadline for a task, or a timetable for a train or bus.

"Verfehlen" has more of the connotation of failing to achieve something that was relatively uncertain to begin with. One might "verfehlen" to get a promotion, for instance.

  • Can it be roughly said that verpassen is used for tangible missed things, while verfehlen is for intangibles? – Ad Infinitum May 17 '17 at 6:48
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    @AdInfinitum: Not quite. I would think in turns of "elusiveness" rather than "tangibility." They are similar, but not the same. Example from adjan's answer: "Verpassen can also be used with people, (jmd. verpassen). It also translates to miss sb. but only in the sense of "failing to reach sb." and not in a sense of feeling the absence of sb," – Tom Au May 17 '17 at 8:40
  • That means even if there is no sharp distinction between these verbs, it is possible to differentiate by considering "elusiveness". I got the point thanks for your great comment + answer. – Ad Infinitum May 17 '17 at 9:11
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Here a collection of good phrases using verpassen and verfehlen.

Note that typically you cannot interchange verpassen and verfehlen in these phrases.

Verpassen:

eine Gelegenheit verpassen

eine Theatervorstellung verpassen

den richtigen Moment verpassen

den Zug/Bus/Flug verpassen, die Straßenbahn/Fähre verpassen

den Freund verpassen (während man auf ihn wartet, um ihn zu überraschen)

den Sonnenuntergang verpassen

As we see, all this seems to be related to time.

Verfehlen:

ein Ziel verfehlen

das Klassenziel verfehlen [typical expression used by teachers for students who will have to repeat a year at school due to insufficient learning results]

der Fußballer hat das Tor verfehlt

den rechten Ton verfehlen

den Treffpunkt verfehlen

das rechte Maß verfehlen

One could argue that this tends to be related to place/space, although Maß and Ton need some mental gymnastics to be seen in a place/space perspective.

Notably however

den rechten Augenblick verfehlen

sounds correct to me, although it would contradict the rule of time/space association.

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