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I came across this sentence:

Я мало чем могу помочь, но могу поделиться с тобой старым хаком статуса профиля.

I'm confused with мало чем. How is it used?

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  • consider - Чем (with what) ты можешь помочь? - Ничем (with nothing)! or Мало чем (with little/not much)! – Баян Купи-ка Mar 29 '19 at 7:28
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'Чем' is a form of 'что' meaning 'what'. This is exactly the question that is used when you learn cases ('чем' is instrumental case, number 5 = 'творительный'). enter image description here

Translate it word-by-word and it will be clear:

Я мало чем могу помочь, но могу поделиться с тобой старым хаком статуса [от] профиля

=> word-by-word =>

I little what can help, but can share with you old hack status [of] profile

=> shake it =>

Little what I can help, but can share old profile status hack with you

=> add English grammar =>

There is little with what I can help you, but I can share an old profile status hack with you

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  • 1
    now fixed, there were a redundant trailing with and an indefinite article – Баян Купи-ка Mar 28 '19 at 10:29
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This means:

There is not many ways I can help.

Another valid sentence would be Я мало что могу для тебя сделать («There is not much I can do for you»).

чем and что in these examples are similar to которыми and которые here:

Мало действий, которыми я могу помочь.
Мало действий, которые я могу для тебя сделать.

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Literally (чем ~ what with or by doing what):

There are not many things I could help you with, however I'd share [help you by sharing] an old hacked profile status (with you).

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This simply means "not much", as in "There isn't much I can do for you". Alternatively you can put it as "There's little I can do for you".

It's one of those turns of speech that sound awfully awkward and artificial if you try to translate them closely, so I would not even try to try to interpret "мало чем помочь" directly.

If you really want to translate "помочь" directly as "help" rather than "do", you'd have to use it as a noun, not a verb. "I'm a afraid I can't be much [of a] help..."

The literate translation is "[There's] little with which I can help you", so you can see you can't really use it or shape it in any way that would sound idiomatic, or normal even, in English.

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Мало чем is the instrumental of the set expression мало что "not a lot [of things]". It belongs to a certain category of expressions.

Think of кое-что. The pronoun meaning "a certain something" or, alternately, "a few things here and there".

There's a limited number of adverbs that combine (without hyphenation) with что to form set expressions that are pronoun-like without technically being pronouns.

The major ones are мало что, много что, (не)известно что, (не)понятно что, and the postpositioned что надо. There are others, (even) more colloquial and not necessarily adverbial, such as не пойми что or чёрт-те что; one, Бог знает что has an exact English equivalent in God knows what.

Just like you also get кое-кто, кое-где, кое-как, etc., these pseudo-affixed adverbs can combine with any other interrogative/relative pronoun. E.g. мало где "not in a lot of places", много как "in many [possible] ways", etc.

It's a matter of pure convention that they're not hyphenated. For all intents and purposes, мало and чем in your example should be thought of as a whole.

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