Translation:Is a principal any different from an ordinary teacher?
Hmm, to me "ordinary" here easily fits with the meaning of "not being a principal" i.e. not having the "special or distinctive feature" of being a teacher who is also principal, while "typical" would be a slightly less natural fit.
Granted "ordinary" doesn't have terribly positive connotations (the implicit meaning "dull" probably isn't making things easier to understand here). Maybe a native speaker will comment on attendant connotations of обычный.
This translation looks like a rhetorical question. The speaker implies, because of "any," that a principal and an ordinary teacher are basically the same. If that is the sense of чем-нибудь here, then this would have to be the translation.
If the Russian sentence is actually a real question, asking for an answer specifying the ways the two positions differ, then it would be translated differently. I put Piguy3's version, "Does a director differ in some way from an ordinary teacher," and it was not accepted, but because it did not recognize "differ." Pretty ridiculous, as they have used that verb in other examples.
Now can a Russian speaker explain which reading fits this sentence, and how it would be said differently for the other meaning?
It's something in between. You can simply reply "yes" or you can give a detailed answer.
If you are in doubt you can use "точно" or "правда": "Директор точно чем-нибудь отличается от обычного учителя?", but this is colloquial.
If you used to think that there was no difference you can use "разве": "Директор разве чем-нибудь отличается от обычного учителя?"
Again, you can hear only "yes" in response, even if you are expecting a detailed answer.
So I gather it's not rhetorical, but requires a "yes" answer. As this translation reads, I could take it as a real question and answer "yes" or "no," and elaborate or not. Or if I take it as a rhetorical question, the implicit answer is "no." What makes the Russian a "yes"-only question?
I didn't know how to translate it into English literally :)
The question itself ("чем?") assumes that the answer will use instrumental. But you're right that in this context "У него ..." would sound more natural. Maybe because we are talking about a human, maybe not. I don't really know. The context matters.
If the one who is asking is expecting a detailed answer, he should ask this way: "Чем директор отличается от обычного учителя?" Then the one who gets asked won't be able to give a simple "yes/no" answer.
I now suppose a literal rendering of the Russian would be "Does a principal differ in some way from an ordinary teacher?"
I would have no idea if it the Russian shares the more neutral quality of this literal version or the stronger rhetorical connotation as to what the asker thinks the answer is that is reflected in the English translation provided.
With the usual non-native disclaimer, the instrumental on its own (in its most basic form??) means something like "by means of", which one could argue applies. "By means of what/in what way does a principal differ from an ordinary teacher?"
By means of/in what fashion? (The latter is rather old-fashioned, I know, but in terms of linking the Russian case with the English translation, I think it works rather well...)
A year-plus later, I remain uncertain about rhetorical connotations. "Is [thing 1] any different from [thing 2]?" strikes me as indicating the speaker's notion that the answer to the question is "no." I'm not inclined to think that the mere use of "чем-нибудь" as clearly indicates the speaker's notions, but would be happy for my position to be verified, or to be disabused of it, by a native speaker.
Hmm, did you also try it with "different from"? Ngrams has it beating "different to" by a factor of something like 70 - and barely registering in American usage, which de facto plays a role in which "my answers should be accepted" have been submitted in large enough quantity to attract attention.
Of course, on more substantive matters, your translation doesn't represent the чем-нибудь at all (when the sentence, as far as I can tell, would have been perfectly comprehensible, and directly equivalent to yours, without it), which isn't the sort of thing Duo tends to like.
"different to" is incorrect English. If it appears in a usage table in any amount, that only reflects incorrect usage.
And "different from" is preferred over "different than", although both are used in standard American English. https://www.dictionary.com/e/different-from-or-different-than/
It's hard to render this well without a fairly free translation, so it's especially important that reasonable literal translations be accepted. Could I ask that "does the principal differ somehow from an ordinary teacher" be accepted? (an attempt to render чем-нибудь, which is instrumental). Also, "does the principal differ in any way from an ordinary teacher"?
Watch the language, please.
Rule of thumb version:
что/кто/где-нибудь (and their declined forms чем/кого/all the others) = something/someone/somewhere/anything/anyone/anywhere in questions and indefinite statements (indefinite, a la something and you don't know what it is yet)
что/кто/где-то (etc) = something/someone/somewhere in definite statements (like something and you do know what it is but aren't saying)
more detail here
By the way, отличный (the adjective, I mean) is primarily used as "excellent, outstanding". In more bookish styles it may indeed get used as "other, different (from), differing (from)":
- Крен ― положение самолёта, при котором вертикальная плоскость его симметрии находится под углом к поверхности Земли, отличным от 90°. ~ lit. Roll is the orientation of an airplane with its vertical plane of symmetry at an angle different from 90 degrees to the Earth surface .
- А ближний ― он «другой», это иной, отличный от нас человек.
- В каждом периоде времени ты создаешь отличную от прежней модель мира.
I cannot think of a way to use отличный in the sentence that started the discussion, though.
I think that the instrumental case for чем-нибудь turns that compound word more into an adverb (even if technically is an adjective, it is linked to the verb), because instrumental suggests the usage "by means of" and -нибудь is defined as "any", so that чем-нибудь becomes an adverbial phrase meaning "in any way".
Also, отлича́ться + от + [Genitive] means "to differ from [Genitive]" or "to be different from [Genitive]". I think that some suggestions that the structure here is отлича́ться + [Instrumental] are wrong.
That would make the sentence translate as:
"[Does] a principal in any way differ from an ordinary teacher?"
"[Is] a principal in any way different from an ordinary teacher?"
If I were being really literal, I think I'd translate чем-нибудь as "by means of any that" where "that" = "[unknown, hypothetical quality]"
I see. I think it's something on the part of this website's engine and eventually on the part of programmers/coders working on it. No moderator can help with it, I'm afraid.
They should stop giving a hint about the first word in a sentence too.
I don't think they read these comments though. If you feel like complaining, try to contact them by other means as well - email or whatever.