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I came across the following sentence in my textbook, 新完全マスターN2 文法, and I can't understand the part in bold font:

チャンスがあってはじめて、才能が生きてくるのではないだろうか。

I looked up the expression 才能が生きる just in case it was some sort of idiom to no avail. However, I was able to find two different entries at HiNative.com (see here and here) asking about the meaning of the exact sentence. In the first entry, they paraphrase the original sentence as follows:

チャンスが訪れてやっと、ようやく才能を役立てることができるのではないだろうか。

In the second entry, they instead give an explanation for the meaning of the whole sentence:

才能がある人でも、それを使う機会がなければ、才能を持っていても活用できないだろう。

From these explanations, I could infer that in the sentence at issue, 才能が生きる roughly means "talent becomes available":

It's not until you've got a chance, that your talent (becomes available / shines? / comes to you?)

Moreover, I've found at Jisho.org that 生きる can signify "to exist" besides "to live" (1st entry), as well as "to come to life; to be enlivened" (4th entry):

生{い}きる

1 - to live; to exist​

4 - to come to life; to be enlivened

I can see how both words are somewhat similar, where "exist" is more general and "live" more particular (only for living beings) so maybe in the Japanese side of things there is no such distinction between "exist" and "live" (or if there is, it's blurrier) when it comes to 生きる. But the definition that fits better, in my opinion, is perhaps "4 - to be enlivened, invigorated, energized" (I added the last synonyms)":

It's not until you've got a chance, that your talent comes to life.

These are my questions:

  1. What does 生きる exactly mean in 才能が生きてくる?
  2. Is 才能が生きる an idiom?
  3. Can you provide some example sentence that use 生きる similarly to 才能が生きる?

2 Answers 2

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  1. What does 生きる exactly mean in 才能が生きてくる?

いきる in this sense is more commonly written as 活きる. It means "to be utilized", "to be leveraged", "to be put to good use", "to be made the most of". It's an intransitive version of 活かす ("to utilize", "to make the most of").

  1. Is that 才能が生きる an idiom?

No. 活きる and 活かす are very versatile verbs, as shown below.

  1. Can you provide some example sentence that use 生きる similarly to 才能が生きる?
  • 経験を活かす to utilize one's experience
  • 経験が活きる someone's experience comes alive (in a project)
  • 能力が活きる someone's abilities will be effectively utilized
  • リソースを活かす to capitalize on resources
  • 料理の才能を活かしてレストランを開く to make the most of their culinary talent and open a restaurant
  • 最終的に貯めておいたお金が活きた。 In the end, the money I had saved proved useful.
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  • That makes total sense, I already knew the transitive word 活かす so after reading your explanation, it clicked almost immediately. If it's not a typo, I'm curious as to why they went for 生きる instead of 活きる if that's the common spelling for this meaning, given that the sentence appears in a Japanese textbook.
    – jarmanso7
    Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 20:36
  • @jarmanso7 Using 生きる for this sense is not incorrect. Some textbooks may have a policy to avoid using difficult kanji, so it's difficult to definitively say it's a mistake.
    – naruto
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 1:30
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You've already indicated in your question that you've understood the meaning.

I think it makes sense taken literally:

My talent comes to life.

Without the fortuitous opportunity, "my" talents might not come to fruition. Doesn't this make sense to you in English too? It does for me.

I don't think it needs to be viewed as a special kind of idiom. It's just a metaphorical way of speaking.

I'm not sure about 才能が生きる. This would be referring to some future time, more likely than not. I would think you'd want to stick with either 才能が生きてくる or 才能が生きている.

I would think that with anything taking on a life of its own due to auspicious circumstances could be described in this manner. But keep in mind that I am not a native speaker.

It seems to me that this usage is similar to using 盛んになる, "to prosper"/ "to thrive".

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  • Yes, my problem is more about how to use 生きる (or maybe 生きてくる?) in general, rather the meaning of this sentence in particular. For instance, can we say something like このプロジェクトで、私のアイデアが生きてきた? is this usage limited to a particular set of words or is it productive? etc.
    – jarmanso7
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 17:55
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    "I would think you'd want to stick with either 才能が生きてくる". Your point makes so much sense after reading the answers at difference between -ていく and -てくる
    – jarmanso7
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 18:07
  • 4
    @jarmanso7 - ⑥(「活きる」とも書く)そのものがもっている本来の能力が発揮される。有効に働く。⇄死ぬ。 (スーパー大辞林)
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 22:34

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