I've recently come across some verbs with 'miss' as a prefix, are inseparable, but act as if they are separable in an infinitive clause e.g. 'misszuverstehen'. I believe this is the most popular infinitive form of 'missverstehen'. Could somebody please clarify which other 'miss' verbs this is possible with and how common it is compared to the alternative? For example: which is more widely seen; 'misszutrauen' or 'zu misstrauen'?

  • 2
    The list of exceptions of "miss-" verbs that behave partially like a separable and partially like an inseparable verb is short and easy - missverstehen is the one, missleiten the other.
    – tofro
    Jan 12, 2018 at 19:49
  • Misstrauen kenne ich, aber missvertrauen, gar misszuvertrauen? Zu misstrauen ist mechanischen Operationen am offenen Sprachkörper. Jan 13, 2018 at 1:44
  • @tofro thanks for your reply. I have read in a grammar book that it is also used with misstrauen and some others, but less commonly. Would you agree with this?
    – Jamie
    Jan 13, 2018 at 7:37
  • @tofro add "missinterpretieren"
    – Uwe
    Jan 13, 2018 at 8:45
  • 2
    @Uwe Possibly native speakers sometimes don't recognise the rule themselves and so say things like 'misszuinterpretieren' even though it's not officialy grammatically correct. This could account for the 'less common' usage described in my book, perhaps?
    – Jamie
    Jan 13, 2018 at 9:10

1 Answer 1


The basic rule is:

  • If the verb prefix "miss-" is unstressed, it behaves like other inseparable prefixes: In the infinitive, "zu" is put in front ("misslingen" → "zu misslingen"); in the past participle, "ge-" is dropped ("misslingen" → "misslungen").

  • If "miss-" is stressed, it behaves partially like a separable prefix: In the infinitive, "zu" is put between "miss-" and the rest of the verb ("missverstehen" → "misszuverstehen"); in the past participle, "ge-" is put between "miss-" and the rest of the verb if there is no further prefix ("missleiten → "missgeleitet", but "missverstehen" → "missverstanden").

Currently, there seems to be only one verb for which all native speakers agree that the stress is on "miss-", namely "missverstehen". There are three more verbs in which "miss-" is sometimes stressed and sometimes not, namely "missdeuten", "missleiten", and "missinterpretieren", and consequently, you will find both variants for these verbs, say, "zu missDEUten" and "MISSzudeuten". (In particular, there seems to be a preference for "MISSzu-" in gerundives, such as "MISSzudeutende".)

Note, however, that stress patterns are subject to change. Two hundred years ago, "missachten" was still stressed on the first syllable (so Goethe wrote "misszuachten", or rather "mißzuachten"); and Heyse's school grammar from 1830 distingished between "MISShandeln" ("to sin"), hence "misszuhandeln", and "missHANdeln" ("to treat someone badly"), hence "zu misshandeln".

  • Danke, dass du meinen Einwand berücksichtigt hast! Selbst der Duden scheint sich bei missinterpretieren nicht sicher zu sein, andere Wörterbücher gehen auf diesen Sonderfall gar nicht ein.
    – tofro
    Jan 13, 2018 at 15:33
  • @tofro Bei "missdeuten" sieht's genauso aus: Betonung laut Duden auf der ersten Silbe, trotzdem wird "zu missdeuten" angegeben.
    – Uwe
    Jan 13, 2018 at 15:59

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