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Consider the following sentence taken from Mathematica tutorial.

Changes to a notebook that only involve opening or closing cell groups will not cause the front end to ask you ...

According to my understanding when reading Toefl preparation books, the noun clause should immediately follow the noun to which the noun clause refers. If I apply this guidance, the sentence above will be decomposed as follows.

  • Changes to a notebook will not cause the front end to ask you ...
  • The notebook only involves opening and closing cell groups.

But the meaning from technical point of view becomes weird as the correct meaning should be as follows.

  • Changes to a notebook will not cause the front end to ask you ...
  • The changes only involve opening and closing cell groups.

What do you think about this? Is the quoted sentence grammatically wrong?

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Related Example

The following phrase is not so much grammatically wrong as it is just ambiguous:

Changes to books that are badly written...

Are the changes badly written, or are the books badly written? It's not entirely clear.

Your Example

In your example, subject-verb agreement resolves the ambiguity:

Changes to a notebook that only involve...

Since "changes" is plural, "a notebook" is singular, and "involve" agrees with a plural noun, there's only one possible interpretation of this sentence. In addition, as you've pointed out, only one interpretation makes sense.

Having said that, the rule you learned is still a good one to follow. In general, you want to keep related parts of a sentence near each other.

  • Excellent. A less confusing way of saying it: Notebook changes that only involve ... – StoneyB Jan 2 '14 at 0:01

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