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Please consider this scenario: I would like to tell someone that if he uses a certain word in his sentence, he would fail to make that sentence absolutely perfect. More specifically, that word would have an adverse effect on the preciseness of the sentence. That said, I also want to assure him that deviation would be so subtle and negligible that he has really got no need to worry about that. So, I tell him this while stressing the word "little":

If you use that word, you would lose little precision.

In another scenario, I would like to tell a person that a word she is to use would make the exactness of the sentence suffer. I want to admit that caused fault of itself is not that significant, but since losing the preciseness is a horrible thing she needs to be worry about that! I finally manage to tell her the same thing I came up with in the previous scenario, but this time, I put stress on the word "lose" or "precision".

If you use that word, you would lose little precision.

If you use that word, you would lose little precision.

Now, my question is that does shifting the stress change the meaning of the sentence in the way that I described? If so, how can I illustrate stresses in the writing?

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    Shifting the stress does nothing to change the meaning of the sentence you have given (and I'm struggling to think of any example where changing the stress does change meaning - except for cases where that stress shifts tone and implied meanings like "So nice to meet you."). – David Hall Aug 21 '13 at 16:03
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    Additionally there is no standardized way (that I can think of) to indicate a change of stress - it is usually done through irregular typography (bold, or italics), irregular spelling "Sooooo nice to meet you" or through altering punctuation. – David Hall Aug 21 '13 at 16:04
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    "lose little X" implies that the effect is small and negligible; "lose a little X", with the article, implies that the effect is small but possibly important. You may also say "lose X" (e.g., "lose precision"), which doesn't say how large the effect is but implies that it is important. – StoneyB Aug 21 '13 at 16:23
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    In addition to StoneyB's comment, there are also other words you can use - something like "you would lose some precision". The main problem I see with what you are trying, is that a small change in precision almost by definition cannot have a dramatic effect, so you need to introduce a second clause - something like "If you use that word, you only lost a little precision, but that would have a dramatic effect!" – David Hall Aug 21 '13 at 16:30
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    @DavidHall I'm puzzled by your statement that there is no regular way to indicate change in stress, when you immediately follow by stating the regular way, namely, italics. While use of italics has other meanings and therefore can be ambiguous, it is very widely recognized as indicating stress. When italics are not available, the common convention is to write the stressed word in all capitals. – Jay Aug 21 '13 at 16:42
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It is certainly true that changes in stress can change the meaning of a sentence.

I'm making up an example off the top of my head so perhaps it's not the best, but consider:

I want to take my dog to the park.

Simple statement of fact.

I want to take my dog to the park.

I am not being forced to do it, it is not a necessity, but rather it is something that I want to do.

I want to take my dog to the park.

Not my cat, not my girlfriend, but my dog.

I want to take my dog to the park.

Not the store, not the vet, but the park.

Etc. You could stress almost any word in that sentence to alter the meaning.

That said, there's no clear way to express the meaning you want in your example by altering stress. Emphasizing "lose" would imply that someone thought they might gain precision, and so you are making clear that it is not a gain, but a loss. Emphasizing "precision" would indicate that it is precision you are losing and not something else. I'm not sure what that other thing might be.

The best I can see is to add the word "a" before little, and then emphasize "would": "... you would lose a little precision." This emphasizes that this is indeed something that will happen, and the presence of "a" means that the emphasis in not on "little" but on "precision".

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