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I have a question related to an example sentence below. I always have slight doubt in interpreting sentences which have this kind of clauses being connected.

Consider this sentence:

The book covers the fundamental building blocks of digital design across several levels of abstraction, from CMOS gates to hardware design languages.

Here, to which part of the first clause in the sentence is the second clause — "from CMOS gates to hardware design languages" — related? I mean whether CMOS gates and hardware design languages are

  • fundamental building blocks of digital design, or
  • several levels of abstraction.
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2 Answers

In the sentence:

The book covers the fundamental building blocks of digital design across several levels of abstraction, from CMOS gates to hardware design languages.

there is only one clause, which is the main idea in the sentence:

The book covers the fundamental building blocks of digital design

The following

  • across several levels of abstraction
  • from CMOS gates to hardware design languages

are adverbial phrases that both modify the verb covers. The first indicates the range of the cover ("across several levels of abstraction"), while the other delineates arbitrary boundaries ("CMOS gates", "hardware design languages") of that range. Thus, CMOS gates and hardware design languages

  • are two of the fundamental building blocks of digital design and
  • they occupy two of the several levels of abstraction indicated

Also, one could consider from CMOS gates to hardware design languages as a submodifier, as its absence does not take much away from the sentence:

The book covers the fundamental building blocks of digital design across several levels of abstraction[, from CMOS gates to hardware design languages].

However, it is also a proper modifier in its own right:

The book covers the fundamental building blocks of digital design[ across several levels of abstraction], from CMOS gates to hardware design languages.

Finally, I should point out that the entire sentence can also be correctly regarded as a clause. In the example below, it is used as the main clause:

Although it lacks some crucial supplementary material, the book covers the fundamental building blocks of digital design across several levels of abstraction, from CMOS gates to hardware design languages.

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Aside from your snarky comment about clauses, I find this a good reply - except that you confirm that there are different places that the modifier "from CMOS gates ... " might attach, as the OP asked, but seem to regard that as unimportant. The sentence is formally ambiguous, but in this case, I don't think the different structures will have much significance for the meaning. –  Colin Fine Jan 26 '11 at 16:55
    
@Colin Fine: Indeed, I am guilty of at times brushing off the question in order to just go with my flow. I will edit my answer accordingly, when I get off work. But, please, tell me why you find my comment[s] snarky? I'm sorry if I came across as a know-it-all, or something of the sort. I was just pointing out the fact. Maybe I shouldn't have emphasized one :) Again, I will edit my answer in due time. And, true, maybe there is no such thing as a perfectly worded sentence. At least, this sentence doesn't make the cut in that regard. –  Jimi Oke Jan 26 '11 at 17:19
    
@Jimi: Re 'snarky': It was clear (to me) that goldenmean was using the word "clause" in a non-standard but perfectly comprehensible way. I would have found an incidental note to that effect quite acceptable; but your "there is only one clause" I see as a put-down. –  Colin Fine Jan 27 '11 at 15:14
    
@Colin Fine: I apologize if I offended your sensibilities, or those of @goldenmean. I never respond to any question on this site with the intention of belittling the asker, and many times, I tend to be overly sympathetic to askers who appear to be pilloried by other users for their mistakes. I am a teacher and it is my nature to set the record straight. I take all questions here seriously and respond to the best of my ability, in the hopes that while answering the question, I may also be able to point out useful facts to the person asking the question, to improve their overall knowledge... –  Jimi Oke Jan 27 '11 at 17:08
    
@Colin Fine: (contd) And to be honest, I had a really hard time understanding the question with clause used in that way. Thus, in order to produce the clearest answer I could, I had to start by stating what was fact. So, I'm sorry, I had to begin my answer that way. Whenever I approach questions, I come with the understanding that the asker may sometimes not be able to phrase the question in the best way they can. I try to get the overall idea and I take particular note of any errors of usage/grammar in the question, which, if I cannot edit, I address in my answer. –  Jimi Oke Jan 27 '11 at 17:13
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Given that CMOS gates are very low in terms of abstraction and a programming language is relatively high, I'd say it refers to 'several levels of abstraction' in this case.

However, you could take out that part and it would still work:

"The book covers the fundamental building blocks of digital design, from CMOS gates to hardware design languages".

I assume that it is made clear by the context of the book that 'digital design' refers to hardware design as opposed to all forms of design carried out digitally, because otherwise it makes less sense: hardware design languages aren't all that fundamental to making a webpage, for example.

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