What do the national debt, your old gym teacher, and your mother-in-law have in common? They're all formidable — that is, they inspire fear and respect thanks to their size, or special ability, or unusual qualities. (Or possibly all three in the case of your mother-in-law.)

What's interesting about formidable is that we often tend to use it about things that, while they may scare us, we can't help being pretty impressed by all the same. A formidable opponent is almost by definition a worthy one; a formidable challenge almost by definition one worth rising to. Not surprisingly, this word is derived from the Latin formidare, "to fear."

Definitions of formidable

adj extremely impressive in strength or excellence

“a formidable opponent”
“the challenge was formidable
“had a formidable array of compositions to his credit”
“the formidable army of brains at the Prime Minister's disposal”
making a strong or vivid impression

adj inspiring fear

“the formidable prospect of major surgery”
redoubtable, unnerving
frightening because of an awareness of danger

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