Antecedent, antecedent, who's got the antecedent?

OK, here is an example I had in a recent “Business Grammar” class:

“I bought one of those watches that never needs winding.”

The instructor said that “needs” is proper in number, becase “that” is referring to “one” which is singular.

I disagreed, thinking that the statement as written was ambiguous. In my opinion, if the conversation was about watches, then the “of those watches” has little importance. The sentence with it’s salient parts would then be “I bought one (watch) that never needs rewinding.” OK, no problem there.

However, if the conversation was about something else, and I just happened to think about my recent purchase, then the salient part would be “those watches that never need rewinding,” requiring a plural verb, because that is the main point.

Diagrammatically, in the first example, “of those watches” would be and adjective prepositional phrase modifying “one.” “That never needs rewinding” would be a adjective clause modifying “one.”

In the second example, “of those watches that never need rewinding” is an extended prepositional phrase modifying “one,” and “that never need rewinding” is an adjective clause modifying “watches.”

Once again in recap, the instructor said that the first way was correct. I thought that it could be either way, depending upon the context.

Any thoughts???

(I also think somehow this question ties in to the ga/wa confusion in Japanese.)

Well, I have to agree with you completely with regard to that bit about Japanes ga/wa confusion because I have no fucking idea what THAT means! do they have something going on with the the “wa” meaning “as for” and “ga” meaning … something similar? It’s been a lotta years.

"I bought one of those watches that never needs winding."
Assuming the context of the conversation is unquestionably about chronometers, you could eliminate the phrase “of those watches” and you would end up with the sentence “I bought ONE that never NEED winding.” ONE doesn’t agree with NEED in this case.

What you are advancing by putting emphasis on “those watches that never need winding” could be restated as, “As for (wa) those watches that never need winding, I bought one.”
That works, but the focus is different. Here’s what I mean:

I bought ONE of those watches (single object) that never NEEDS winding. (ONE agrees with NEEDS)
I purchased of those WATCHES(multiple objects, unclear number of items purchased) that never NEED winding."

I think because English is not as case specific as other languages, your agument can be validated, but it would require a different understanding of the context.

The example is not ambiguous. It is clear in either situation that the subject bought a watch that does not need to be wound.

I believe either way works well in either context. Watches or one could serve as antecedent.

You’re saying “I bought one that never needs rewinding.” not “I bought those watches that never need rewinding.”

The sentence is syntactically ambiguous, although both parsings have the same meaning. You can diagram it as
[one of those watches][that never needs winding]
(better than “rewinding”) or
[one of those [watches that never need winding]]
and each is correct and, as it happens, they also mean the same thing. Often syntactic ambiguity gives rise to actual ambiguity.