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Home > Excel Resources > What is a Microsoft Excel Reference?

What is a Microsoft Excel Cell Reference or Microsoft Excel Range Reference?

What is a Microsoft Excel Cell Reference or Microsoft Excel Range Reference?

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What is a Cell Reference or Range Reference?

A cell or cell reference identifies a cell's position on a worksheet. A range or range reference identifies a group of cells and their position on a worksheet. These references tell a Microsoft Excel formula and other Microsoft Excel features where to obtain a value or group of values. Some common cell references and range references are presented in the table below:

Refers To Reference
The cell in column A and row 2, a cell reference  A2
The cells between row 1 and row 10 column A, a range reference A1:A10
The cells between row 1 and 10 columns B an C, a range reference B1:C10
All the cells in column D, a range reference D:D
All the cells in Row 2, a range reference 2:2
All the cells in columns D and E, a range reference D:E

By default, Excel uses what is called A1 reference style, which refers to columns with letters and refers to rows with numbers. These letters and numbers are called row and column headings. That is what is being used on this page. If you see a formula and you start to see =R1C1+1 in it, you are in what is called R1C1 reference style. Only an advanced Excel user uses this notation and very rarely is it seen. To make the matter short, get out of this mode, refer to Excel help by typing in A1 Reference style to see how to toggle it back to the A1 style most commonly used.

 

What do the Dollar Signs Mean in a Cell Reference or Range Reference

When you place dollar signs around a cell reference or range reference, you are preventing the reference from changing when you copy or paste a cell with a formula in it. Cell references and range references can move relative to your copy and paste, that is what they are designed to do by nature. For example, if you had a cell with a formula in it, say cell B2 = A1+1 and you copied cell B2 to B3 then the formula would shift to be cell B3 =A2+1 because it moved relative to your copy. If you wrapped dollar signs around A1 like =$A$1+1 then when you copied the formula it would stay fixed on cell A1 and not change. You can easily put dollar signs around a cell reference or range reference by highlighting the reference in the formula and pressing the F4 key. The F4 key will cycle you through all the dollar sign configurations as you keep pressing it. Here are what the dollar signs mean:

Dollar Sign Configuration Explanation
A1 When cell copied and pasted, cell reference will shift relative to new paste position
$A$1 When cell copied and pasted, cell reference will not move
$A1 When cell copied and pasted, cell reference will move row position if pasted off current row but will not shift column number
A$1 When cell copied and pasted, cell reference will move column notation if pasted off current column but will not shift row position

 

How to Create a Cell Reference or Range Reference that References Another Worksheet

To refer to another Excel worksheet, place the worksheet name in front of the reference followed by an explanation point !. For example, to refer to Sheet2 cell A1 the syntax (grammar) for a formula would be:

=Sheet2!A1+1

If the sheet name has non alpha-numeric characters or spaces in it, use apostrophes to enclose the name, for example for a worksheet named Data Sheet the syntax would be:

='Data Sheet'!A1+1

Note that if you build your formula by clicking and highlighting cells with the mouse, Excel will build the basic cell references including sheet names automatically.

 

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