Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 365. If you are using an earlier version (Excel 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Excel, click here: Formulas Don't Calculate as Formulas.

Formulas Don't Calculate as Formulas

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated April 1, 2022)


When you enter information into a cell, Excel needs to determine how to treat that information. Should it be considered a date? A number? As a formula? Perhaps it is text? Excel interprets your cell entry according to a fairly well-defined set of rules. The "fall-back" determination for a cell is to treat an entry as text.

You may notice something odd when entering information in a cell, however—Excel may always treat what you enter as text. For instance, you may enter a formula such as =B3 into a cell, with the expectation that the formula will be understood by Excel and the contents of cell B3 will be shown as a result of the formula. Excel, however, may simply display "=B3" in the cell, instead of the expected result.

If this happens to you, then Excel is not interpreting your cell entry as a formula, but as text. It is bypassing the normal parsing that goes on and instead jumping directly to the "fall-back" determination of the cell containing text.

This problem happens most often when the cell into which you are entering information was previously formatted as text. In other words, someone used the Number Format drop-down list (in the Number group on the Home tab of the ribbon) or the Format Cells dialog box to explicitly format the cell as Text.

An easy way to correct this situation is to perform the following steps:

  1. Select the cell that contains the formula that is being interpreted as text.
  2. Display the Home tab of the ribbon.
  3. Click the Clear tool, in the Editing group. Excel displays a few different actions you can take.
  4. Choose Clear Formats. This removes any formatting applied to the cell.
  5. Press F2. This puts the cell into edit mode.
  6. Immediately press Enter. This causes Excel to re-evaluate what is in the cell.

Your formula should now be treated as a formula instead of as text.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (3308) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 365. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Formulas Don't Calculate as Formulas.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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What is one minus 1?

2018-07-25 10:45:32

Devon R

This happens often to me, usually when I am adding a column next to another formula column. I highlight the column then use the View / Text to Columns, and making sure Delimiter is checked, click Finish. It will then calculate the formulas all the way down the column.

2018-07-13 06:45:17

Ruthie A. Ward

@Alex B - Thanks. Option 2 works as not all the formulas are the same in every row of the column.

2018-07-13 03:03:08

Alex B

" for multiple cells in the same row:-" **** should be column ****
"Typically all formulas in the row" **** should be column ****

2018-07-13 02:57:16

Alex B

@Ruthie - The changing the formatting to general is only the first step and doesn't convert the formulas from text.

Once you have changed the column to General you need to make Excel think that you are re-entering the formula into the cell. So
1) To do the first cell just go into edit mode in the cell and hit enter.
2) You are not going to do that for the more than one cell. So for multiple cells in the same row:-

2.1) Option 1
Typically all formulas in the row are all the same formula so you simply copy the formula you fixed in 1) above down to all the rows.

2.2) Option 2
If you have different formulas on different rows or for some other reason you don't want to do the above, you can use Data > Text to columns per my post below.

(You are just trying to trick Excel into thinking you have re-entered the formula now that the column is no longer formatted as text)

2018-07-12 07:03:07

Ruthie A. Ward

How do you change the default formatting to general and get it to stay that way for an entire column? I've tried reformatting the column repeatedly to both general and numeric and still have rows where Excel thinks the formula is a text string. I'm adding/correcting formulas in a spreadsheet that's 244,000 rows long and would rather not do them all individually!

2018-07-09 09:53:07

Gary Lundblad

I have run into this problem quite a few times, and the best way I've found to fix it is to drag another cell over the top of the cell that is having problems, essentially moving the other cell to the same location as the problem cell.

Gary Lundblad

2018-07-08 20:55:47

Alex B

The unexpected treatment of a column as Text typically happens when the data is imported or copy/pasted from another source and as such is more common with values and dates than formulas. Inserting a column to the right of an existing Text formatted column also formats the new column as Text, which is often when it impacts formulas.

Formatting the column as General as mentioned in the tip is always the first step, and the Convert Text to Columns for the offending data will generally fix it. Just make sure you pick a delimiter option that is not in the data ie Tab and select the column data format General (if dates select “Date”) and have the destination the same as the source range.

2018-07-07 12:54:34


Also check to see if the workbook calculation option has been set to manual in lieu of automatic. Press F9 (the recalculate shortcut) to see if the cell calculates as desired.

If it does, reset the workbook calculation option on the ribbon: Formulas | Calculation Options | Automatic

2018-07-07 12:28:35

Don Hornbrook

Occasionally I run into this problem. A solution that always works for me when nothing else works is search and replace "=" with "=" (just the equal sign, not the quotes).

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