Calculation operators and order of operations
Operators specify the kind of calculation that you want to perform on the elements of a formula. Excel performs calculations in a standard order, but you can also control the order of calculations.
Arithmetic operators
To perform basic mathematical operations (such as addition, subtraction, or multiplication), combine numbers, and produce numeric results, use the following arithmetic operators.
Arithmetic operator |
Meaning (example) |
+ (Plus sign) |
Addition (3+3) |
– (Minus sign) |
Subtraction (3–1) or negation (–1) |
* (Asterisk) |
Multiplication (3*3) |
/ (Forward slash) |
Division (3/3) |
% (Percent sign) |
Percent (20%) |
^ (Caret) |
Exponentiation (3^2) |
Comparison operators
You can compare two values with the following operators. When two values are compared by using these operators, the result is a logical value either TRUE or FALSE.
Comparison operator |
Meaning (example) |
= (Equal sign) |
Equal to (A1=B1) |
> (Greater than sign) |
Greater than (A1>B1) |
< (Less than sign) |
Less than (A1<B1) |
>= (Greater than or equal to sign) |
Greater than or equal to (A1>=B1) |
<= (Less than or equal to sign) |
Less than or equal to (A1<=B1) |
<> (Not equal to sign) |
Not equal to (A1<>B1) |
Join operator
Use the ampersand (&) to join one or more text strings to produce a single piece of text.
Join operator |
Meaning (example) |
& (Ampersand) |
Joins two values to produce one continuous text value ("North"&"west") |
Reference operators
Combine ranges of cells for calculations with the following operators.
Reference operator |
Meaning (example) |
: (Colon) |
Range operator, which produces one reference to all the cells between two references, including the two references (B5:B15) |
, (Comma) |
Union operator, which combines multiple references into one reference (SUM(B5:B15,D5:D15)) |
(Single space) |
Intersection operator, which produces one reference to cells common to the two references (B7:D7 C6:C8) |
Order of operations in formulas
A formula in Excel always begins with an equal sign (=). Following the equal sign are the elements to be calculated (the operands), which are separated by calculation operators. Excel calculates the formula from left to right, according to a specific order for each operator in the formula.
If you combine several operators in a single formula, Excel performs the operations in the order shown in the following table. If a formula contains operators with the same precedence — for example, if a formula contains both a multiplication and division operator — Excel evaluates the operators from left to right.
Operator |
Description |
: (Colon) , (Comma) (Single space) |
Reference operators |
– (Minus sign) |
Negation (as in -1) |
% (Percent sign) |
Percent |
^ (Caret) |
Exponentiation |
* (Asterisk) / (Forward slash) |
Multiplication and division |
+ (Plus sign) – (Minus sign) |
Addition and subtraction |
& (Ampersand) |
Connects two strings of text (concatenation) |
= (Equal sign) > (Greater than sign) < (Less than sign) >= (Greater than or equal to sign) <= (Less than or equal to sign) <> (Not equal to sign) |
Comparison |
To change the order of evaluation, enclose in parentheses the part of the formula to be calculated first. For example, the following formula produces 11 because Excel calculates multiplication before addition. The formula multiplies 2 by 3 and then adds 5 to the result.
= 5+2*3
In contrast, if you use parentheses to change the syntax, Excel adds 5 and 2 together and then multiplies the result by 3 to produce 21.
= (5+2)*3
In the following example, the parentheses around the first part of the formula force Excel to calculate B4+25 first and then divide the result by the sum of the values in cells D5, E5, and F5.
= (B4+25)/SUM(D5:F5)
How Excel converts values in formulas
When you enter a formula, Excel expects certain kinds of values for each operator. If you enter a different kind of value than is expected, Excel sometimes can convert the value.
The formula |
Produces |
Explanation |
= "1"+"2" |
3 |
When you use a plus sign (+), Excel expects numbers in the formula. Even though the quotation marks mean that "1" and "2" are text values, Excel automatically converts the text values to numbers. |
= 1+"$4.00" |
5 |
When a formula expects a number, Excel converts text if it is in a format that would usually be accepted for a number. |
= "6/1/2001"-"5/1/2001" |
31 |
Excel interprets the text as a date in the mm/dd/yyyy format, converts the dates to serial numbers, and then calculates the difference between them. |
=SQRT ("8+1") |
#VALUE! |
Excel cannot convert the text to a number because the text "8+1" cannot be converted to a number. You can use "9" or "8"+"1" instead of "8+1" to convert the text to a number and return the result of 3. |
= "A"&TRUE |
ATRUE |
When text is expected, Excel converts numbers and logical values such as TRUE and FALSE to text. |