BASE: Excel Formulae Explained

Microsoft Excel is a powerful tool that has become a staple in many workplaces and homes. Its capabilities are vast and varied, ranging from simple data entry and analysis to complex calculations and automation. Central to these functions are Excel formulae, which are the building blocks of any Excel spreadsheet. Understanding these formulae can significantly enhance your productivity and efficiency when working with Excel.

Understanding Excel Formulae

Excel formulae are instructions that you give to Excel to perform calculations or other actions on your data. They are the heart of Excel's functionality, allowing you to manipulate and analyze your data in a myriad of ways. Formulae can be as simple as adding two numbers together, or as complex as calculating statistical values from a large dataset.

Each Excel formula begins with an equals sign (=). This tells Excel that what follows is a formula. After the equals sign, you enter the elements of the formula, which can include numbers, cell references, operators, and functions.

Numbers and Cell References

Numbers are often used in Excel formulae. You can enter numbers directly into your formula, or you can use cell references. A cell reference is the address of a cell on a worksheet, and it tells Excel where to look for the values to use in the calculation.

Cell references can be relative (e.g., A1), absolute (e.g., $A$1), or mixed (e.g., $A1 or A$1). Relative cell references change when you copy a formula from one cell to another, while absolute cell references remain the same. Mixed cell references have one part that is relative and one part that is absolute.


Operators are symbols that tell Excel what type of calculation to perform. The basic arithmetic operators are addition (+), subtraction (-), multiplication (*), and division (/). There are also comparison operators (e.g., =, <>, <, >, <=, >=) and text concatenation operators (&).

Excel follows the standard order of operations in its calculations. This means that it performs operations in parentheses first, followed by multiplication and division, and then addition and subtraction. You can change the order of operations by using parentheses to group parts of your formula.


Functions are predefined formulae in Excel. They perform specific calculations or actions and can greatly simplify your work. Excel has hundreds of functions, grouped into categories such as financial, logical, text, date and time, lookup and reference, math and trigonometry, and statistical.

Each function has a specific syntax that you must follow. The syntax includes the function name, followed by a pair of parentheses. Inside the parentheses, you enter the arguments for the function, separated by commas. Some functions require specific arguments, while others have optional arguments.

Common Excel Formulae

While there are countless Excel formulae you can create, there are a few that are particularly common and useful. Understanding these formulae can give you a solid foundation for working with Excel.


The SUM function adds up all the numbers in a specified range of cells. The AVERAGE function calculates the average of a range of cells. The MIN function returns the smallest number in a range of cells, and the MAX function returns the largest number.

These functions are straightforward to use. You simply enter the function name, followed by the range of cells you want to include in the calculation. For example, =SUM(A1:A10) adds up all the numbers in cells A1 through A10.


The COUNT function counts the number of cells in a range that contain numbers, and the COUNTA function counts the number of cells in a range that are not empty. These functions can be useful for understanding the size and composition of your data.

Like the SUM, AVERAGE, MIN, and MAX functions, the COUNT and COUNTA functions are used with a range of cells. For example, =COUNT(A1:A10) counts the number of cells in A1 through A10 that contain numbers.


The VLOOKUP and HLOOKUP functions are powerful tools for finding specific data in your spreadsheet. The VLOOKUP function looks for a value in the leftmost column of a table, and then returns a value in the same row from a column you specify. The HLOOKUP function works in a similar way, but it looks for a value in the top row of a table.

These functions can be a bit more complex to use than the others, but they are incredibly useful. They require four arguments: the lookup value, the table array, the column or row index number, and the range lookup value.

Creating and Editing Excel Formulae

Creating and editing Excel formulae is a straightforward process once you understand the basics. You can enter formulae directly into cells, or you can use the formula bar at the top of the Excel window.

Entering Formulae

To enter a formula, you first select the cell where you want the result of the formula to appear. Then, you type an equals sign (=) to tell Excel that you're entering a formula. After the equals sign, you enter the elements of the formula, following the syntax for any functions you're using.

You can use the arrow keys to move around your spreadsheet and select cells to include in your formula. As you select cells, Excel adds their references to your formula. You can also type cell references directly into your formula.

Editing Formulae

To edit a formula, you first select the cell that contains the formula. The formula appears in the formula bar, and you can make changes directly in the formula bar. You can also double-click the cell to edit the formula directly in the cell.

When you're editing a formula, Excel highlights the cells that are referenced in the formula. This can help you see the relationships between the formula and the data in your spreadsheet.


Excel formulae are a powerful tool for manipulating and analyzing data. By understanding the basics of Excel formulae, you can greatly enhance your productivity and efficiency when working with Excel. Whether you're performing simple calculations or complex data analysis, Excel formulae can help you get the job done.

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