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I read an online review and came across the expression It’s hard to tell — which work well. Would native speakers speak in this way?

Here is the full context:

While the nose is equally anise and room-filling, on the tongue it pops with a variety of herbal and some fruit flavors. Lemon peel is apparent as is pepper. Lots of green and grassy herbs — maybe rosemary? it’s hard to tell — which work well with the fruit and spice and, of course, the anise. The flavors work well together, and the spirit is very balanced on the whole. St. George is easy to drink without being simplistic and watery.

  • J.R. Thanks for expanding the quote to give it more context. – pyobum Mar 6 '15 at 10:08
  • Do native speakers speak this way? They do when they are reviewing wines. – J.R. Mar 6 '15 at 10:12
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The full sentence (fragment) is, "Lots of green and grassy herbs — maybe rosemary? [I]t’s hard to tell — which work well with the fruit and spice and, of course, the anise. The part "maybe rosemary? it's hard to tell" is written as a parenthetical remark, also known as an aside (see definition 8 here) and is not essential to the rest of the statement.

You could read it without the parenthetical remark thus:

(The flavor of this absinthe includes) lots of green and grassy herbs, which work well with the fruit and spice and, of course, the anise.

The parenthetical remark is the writer's guess at which grassy herb he is tasting (he isn't sure what it is).

  • I believe you've nailed it. I think the O.P. might have been confused by the question mark, which is awkwardly placed in the middle of the fragment set off by dashes. – J.R. Mar 6 '15 at 10:08
  • @J.R. Yeah, I had the same thought. It certainly doesn't make for smooth reading. – pyobum Mar 6 '15 at 10:17
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    @pyoburn: Evidently, the reviewer's drink is more smooth than his writing :^) – J.R. Mar 6 '15 at 10:22
  • Thank you very much. I was confused by unusual phrasung 'tell which work well'. – user17921 Mar 6 '15 at 10:32
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    @user17921 Note pyobum's use of the term 'parenthetical'. When dashes are paired as they are here, they act just like parentheses. – StoneyB Mar 6 '15 at 13:54

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