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sweety

what causes an engine cylinder to misfire?

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In D.I. Diesel Engine - Improper Fuel Injection timing, Unbalanced governor, Defective Injector, Defect in timing gears or chain/sprocket. Burning of oil during combustion through cylinder liner route.
In S.I. Engines - Improper Spark Ignition/Fuel supply. Oil movement to piston through cylinder liner route.

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To expand on Armit's answer.....

...in SI engines, you can have hot-spots where carbon deposits within the cylinder glow causing ignition points in the compression stroke (at the wrong time), valve wear and tear, valve clearances, incorrect spark-plug gap, blocked air filter, no air filter, incorrect valve timing (changing the volumetric efficiency), incorrect retardation during acceleration, incorrect valve timing, worn points/condenser, worn distributor advance mechanism, incorrectly tuned inlet ports, fuel emulsification of the inlet ports, insufficient atomisation of fuel, blocked exhaust, missing exhaust, Incorrect RON ("OCTANE RATING") of fuel, blocked carburetor jets/injectors....I'm sure there are likely to be a few more....

...I'm a little out of practice with Diesel (CI) troubleshooting though.

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In a gasoline engine a "cylinder missfire" would be when the air and gasoline mixture in one or more cylinders does not ignite. 
Three general causes might be found.
1.) Ignition system defects (spark plug, plug wire, coil, etc)
2.) Fuel system problems (injector, improper fuel/air mixture ratio)
3.) Compression parts worn or damaged (piston, rings, valves, head gasket, etc.)
 

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