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А чем это отличается от того, что делаю я?

{vs}: А как это отличается от того, что делаю я?

Although I'm aware that "чем" is the right word to use to express the idea of "How is it different from ...?", I can't quite put my finger on why "как" sounds strange here.

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  • Well, some natives may use как in such a sentence, although I agree it sounds not perfect.
    – AlexVB
    Jun 15 '18 at 22:20
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Отличается requires a noun in instrumental case when you are talking about what is different. Hence чем.

Этот банк отличается надежностью - The bank is known for its sustainability.

On the other hand, как in this context will mean you want to know to what extent one thing is different from another (Как is a question to be answered with an adverb)

Как отличаются эти графики? - How big is the difference between these curves? Очень сильно - Quite big.

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There's a formal semantical difference, which @AlexVB correctly pointed out -- "difference in what (aspect)" vs. "difference by what (measure)".

And there's a usage difference. I think you'll find the second variant isn't actually used (maybe that's why it sounds strange to you). If you'd want to ask "by what measure this differs from that", you'd want to say, e.g., "насколько (это отличается... и т.д.)".

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    I'd say "как" is still used as a shorthand for "каким образом ....". Then I would expect it to be used in less literate stratas. If anything, "как" is sounding somewhat unpleasant, reminding about "какать", so when everything else is equal people would try to use an equivalent sounding more pretty.
    – Arioch
    Jun 18 '18 at 9:35
  • You might be right in that. I was thinking primarily about the literacy style.
    – yury10578
    Jun 18 '18 at 11:12
  • While AlexVB is correct about precise meaning (and it was truly refreshing to read his answer), I guess in real life this difference would only be apprecuated by a person pedantic to the "being anal" level. Or, indeed, some quite narrow VERY LITERATE strata and perhaps even them only during some bounding events. Thematic parties for XIX literature, for example.
    – Arioch
    Jun 18 '18 at 11:17

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