Use Excel as your calculator

Use Excel as your calculator

Instead of reaching for your calculator, use Microsoft Excel to do the math!

On a worksheet, you can enter simple formulas to add, divide, multiply, and subtract two or more numeric values. You can also use the AutoSum feature to quickly total a series of values without having to enter any of them manually in a formula. Once you have created a formula, you can fill it into adjacent cells — no need to create the same formula over and over again.

When you become familiar with these simple formulas, you may want to learn more about how to create complex formulas and try some of the many functions that are available in Excel. For more information, see Overview of formulas and List of worksheet functions (by category).

Note: The screen shots in this article were taken in Excel 2016. Your view might be different depending on which version of Excel you're using.

Learn more about simple formulas

All formula entries start with an equal sign (=). For simple formulas, simply type the equal sign followed by the numeric values that you want to calculate and the math operators that you want to use  — the plus sign (+) to add, the minus sign (-) to subtract, the asterisk (*) to multiply, and the forward slash (/) to divide. Then, press ENTER, and Excel instantly calculates and displays the result of the formula.

For example, when you type =12.99+16.99 in cell C5 and press ENTER, Excel calculates the result and displays 29.98 in that cell.

Example of a simple formula

The formula that you enter in a cell remains visible in the formula bar, and you can see it whenever that cell is selected.

Important: Although there is a SUM function, there is no SUBTRACT function. Instead, use the minus (-) operator in a formula; for example, =8-3+2-4+12. Or, you can use a minus sign to convert a number to its negative value in the SUM function; for example, the formula =SUM(12,5,-3,8,-4) uses the SUM function to add 12, 5, subtract 3, add 8, and subtract 4, in that order.

Use AutoSum

The easiest way to add a SUM formula to your worksheet is to use AutoSum. Select an empty cell directly above or below the range that you want to sum, and on the Home or Formula tabs on the Ribbon, click AutoSum > Sum. AutoSum will automatically sense the range to be summed and build the formula for you. It can also work horizontally if you select a cell to the left or right of the range to be summed.

Note: AutoSum does not work on non-contiguous ranges.

You can use the AutoSum Wizard to automatically build a Sum formula.  Select a range above/beneath or left/right of the range to be summed and goto the Formula tab on the Ribbon, then select AutoSum & SUM.

AutoSum vertically

Cell B6 shows the AutoSum Sum formula: =SUM(B2:B5)

The AutoSum Wizard has automatically detected cells B2:B5 as the range to be summed. All you need to do is press ENTER to confirm it. If you need add/exclude more cells, you can hold the Shift Key > Arrow key of your choice until your selection matches what you want, and press ENTER when you're done.

Intellisense function guide: the SUM(number1,[number2], …) floating tag beneath the function is its Intellisense guide. If you click the SUM or function name, it will turn into a blue hyperlink, which will take you to the Help topic for that function. If you click the individual function elements, their representative pieces in the formula will be highlighted. In this case only B2:B5 would be highlighted since there is only one number reference in this formula. The Intellisense tag will appear for any function.

AutoSum horizontally

Cell D2 shows the AutoSum Sum formula: =SUM(B2:C2)

Wait, there's more to Sum. Take a look at SUM function!

Stop typing the same formula over and over

Once you have created a formula, you can copy it to other cells — no need to create the same formula over and over again. You can either copy the formula, or use the fill handle Fill handle to copy the formula to adjacent cells.

For example, when you copy the formula in cell B6 to C6, the formula in that cell automatically changes to update to cell references in column C.

When you copy a formula, cell references update automatically

Once you copy the formula, make sure that the cell references are correct. Cell references can change based on absolute or relative references. For more information, see Copy and paste a formula to another cell or worksheet.

What can I use in a formula to mimic calculator keys?

Calculator key

Excel method

Description, example


+ (Plus key)

+ (plus)

Use in a formula to add numbers. Example: =4+6+2


- (Minus key)

- (minus)

Use in a formula to subtract numbers or to signify a negative number.

Example: =18-12

Example: =24*-5 (24 times negative 5)



x (Multiply key)

* (asterisk; also called "star")

Use in a formula to multiply numbers. Example: =8*3


÷ (Divide key)

/ (forward slash)

Use in a formula to divide one number by another. Example: =45/5


% (Percent key)

% (percent)

Use in a formula with * to multiply by a percent. Example: =15%*20


(square root)

SQRT (function)

Use the SQRT function in a formula to find the square root of a number. Example: =SQRT(64)


1/x (reciprocal)


Use =1/n in a formula, where n is the number you want to divide 1 by.

Example: =1/8


Do you have a specific Excel question?

Post a question in the Excel community forum

Help us improve Excel

Do you have suggestions about how we can improve the next version of Excel? If so, please check out the topics at Excel User Voice

See Also

Calculation operators and order of operations in Excel

Overview of formulas in Excel

How to avoid broken formulas

Find and correct errors in formulas

Excel keyboard shortcuts and function keys

Excel functions (alphabetical)

Excel functions (by category)

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