Marie est une femme formidable.

English Translation

Mary is a formidable woman.

English « Formidable » here in the midwest USA is more like « scary ». I used to work with a woman who was definitely formidable. Her nickname was the Dragon Lady.

My French SIL uses “formidable” as a positive compliment - like “excellent” - “amazing”

“Tu fais une fête? Formidable!”

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I’d say “formidable” is almost always used with a positive connotation, especially when speaking. It is typically used to describe something that you find great/extraordinary, something that you admire or that makes you really happy.

Formidable can also be used with a negative connotation to describe something scary or massive or some combination of both, but that’s old fashioned and mostly found in books.

One thing that may be confusing:

As shown in the clozemaster example here, “formidable” can also be used to describe people in French and here too, it has a positive connotation - You’re basically saying that Marie is great/ that you admire her.

If you wanted to translate “He’s a formidable opponent” (i.e great but in a scary way), you could use “C’est un adversaire redoutable.

NOTE: I would argue that even in this case, there is still this element of admiration, i.e you admire/respect your opponent’s skills (so much so that you think they should be feared.)