Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007, 2010, and 2013. 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: Pulling Initial Letters from a String.

Pulling Initial Letters from a String

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated November 2, 2013)

4

Rajeev needs a formula that will extract the first letters of a series of words. For instance, if a cell contains the text "Rajeev Kumar Pandey" he would like to extract, into another cell, the letters "RKP". The number of words in series can vary from cell to cell.

There are a couple of ways that this task can be approached. It is assumed, to begin with, that you don't want to modify the structure of your worksheet by adding intermediate columns. This assumption precludes, as well, the use of the Text to Columns feature to split the original string into individual words.

The key to the problem is making sure that your formula can determine where the spaces are in the original string. You might think that a formula such as the following will do the job:

=LEFT(A1,1)&MID(A1,FIND(" ",A1,1)+1,1)&MID(A1,
FIND(" ",A1,FIND(" ",A1,1)+1)+1,1)

This formula works partially. It works just fine if the original string has two spaces separating three words. If there are any fewer words then the formula returns an error. If there are any more words, then it returns only the first letters of the first three words (it ignores anything after the third word).

This means that the formula needs to not only check for spaces, but handle errors if there are no spaces or if there are too few spaces. The error checking means that the formula becomes much longer:

=IF(ISERR(LEFT(A1,1)&MID(A1,SEARCH(" ",A1)+1,1)
&MID(A1,SEARCH(" ",A1,SEARCH(" ",A1)+1)+1,1)
&MID(A1,SEARCH(" ",A1,SEARCH(" ",A1,SEARCH(" ",A1)+1)+1)+1,1)
&MID(A1,SEARCH(" ",A1,SEARCH(" ",A1,SEARCH(" ",A1,SEARCH(" ",
A1)+1)+1)+1)+1,1)),IF(ISERR(LEFT(A1,1)&MID(A1,SEARCH(" ",A1)+1,1)
&MID(A1,SEARCH(" ",A1,SEARCH(" ",A1)+1)+1,1)
&MID(A1,SEARCH(" ",A1,SEARCH(" ",A1,SEARCH(" ",A1)+1)+1)+1,1)),
IF(ISERR(LEFT(A1,1)&MID(A1,SEARCH(" ",A1)+1,1)
&MID(A1,SEARCH(" ",A1,SEARCH(" ",A1)+1)+1,1)),
IF(ISERR(LEFT(A1,1)&MID(A1,SEARCH(" ",A1)+1,1)),
IF(ISERR(LEFT(A1,1)),"",LEFT(A1,1)),LEFT(A1,1)
&MID(A1,SEARCH(" ",A1)+1,1)),LEFT(A1,1)&MID(A1,SEARCH(" ",A1)+1,1)
&MID(A1,SEARCH(" ",A1,SEARCH(" ",A1)+1)+1,1)),
LEFT(A1,1)&MID(A1,SEARCH(" ",A1)+1,1)
&MID(A1,SEARCH(" ",A1,SEARCH(" ",A1)+1)+1,1)
&MID(A1,SEARCH(" ",A1,SEARCH(" ",A1,SEARCH(" ",A1)+1)+1)+1,1)),LEFT(A1,1)
&MID(A1,SEARCH(" ",A1)+1,1)&MID(A1,SEARCH(" ",A1,SEARCH(" ",A1)+1)+1,1)
&MID(A1,SEARCH(" ",A1,SEARCH(" ",A1,SEARCH(" ",A1)+1)+1)+1,1)
&MID(A1,SEARCH(" ",A1,SEARCH(" ",A1,SEARCH(" ",A1,SEARCH(" ",A1)+1)
+1)+1)+1,1))

This formula will handle, properly, anything from 0 to 5 words in a string. It also assumes that the string doesn't start or end with a space and that it doesn't contain multiple numbers of spaces between words. If you want to handle a larger number of words or other potential complications (such as the number of spaces between words), then it is best to use a user-defined function.

There are any number of ways that a user-defined function could pull the leading characters from the words of a string. In fact, I received quite a few variations that accomplish the same thing. The following example, however, is perhaps the most concise code that I ran across:

Function Initials(Raw As String) As String
    Dim Temp As Variant
    Dim J As Integer

    Application.Volitile
    Temp = Split(Trim(Raw))

    For J = 0 To UBound(Temp)
        Initials = Initials & Left(Temp(J), 1)
    Next J
End Function

The Split function "tears apart" a string based on where spaces occur within it. The individual words in the string are placed into an array (in this case, Temp) where you can then access individual words. To use the function in your worksheet, simply use something like this:

=Initials(A1)

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (8663) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, and 2013. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Pulling Initial Letters from a String.

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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Comments

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What is two less than 2?

2014-07-18 07:00:10

Michael (Micky) Avidan

To my opinion the: Application.Volatile
is Unnecessary.
Michael (Micky) Avidan
“Microsoft® Answers" - Wiki author & Forums Moderator
“Microsoft®” MVP – Excel (2009-2015)
ISRAEL


2014-07-17 09:44:01

Andrew

Of course, that lean VBA Module works great BUT only if you correct the typo:

Application.Volitile

to

Application.Volatile

!!!


2013-11-04 14:51:47

Bryan

I forgot to mention: when using the named formula version, expanding to cover more initials is trivial. The hundredth initial would be =MID(A1,pos99+1,1).

Now what would be REALLY amazing is a formula version that accounts for any number of spaces. If it's possible it would use an array formula, but it's much beyond my powers.


2013-11-04 14:48:02

Bryan

The macro solution is clearly the best (and easiest) way to go here. Application.Volatile is unnecessary, and because I'm super OCD I'd change J = 0 to J = LBound(Temp). The function is non-volatile, and even though the lower bound of Split will probably forever be 0, it's just better practice to make as few assumptions as possible.

As for the formula version, you can shorten the first formula IMMENSELY by using IFERROR instead of IF/ISERR:

=IFERROR(LEFT(A1,1),"")&IFERROR(MID(A1,FIND(" ",A1)+1,1),"")&IFERROR(MID(A1,FIND(" ",A1,FIND(" ",A1)+1)+1,1),"")&IFERROR(MID(A1,FIND(" ",A1,FIND(" ",A1,FIND(" ",A1)+1)+1)+1,1),"")&IFERROR(MID(A1,FIND(" ",A1,FIND(" ",A1,FIND(" ",A1,FIND(" ",A1)+1)+1)+1)+1,1),"")

My version is 261 characters, a full 787 characters smaller than the one presented here -- that's a 75% reduction! I'm sure someone more clever than I could reduce it even more.

If I needed to do this for more than one cell, I would either use helper columns or named range formulas (which one I'd use depends on how lazy I am or how the data is later going to be used). Those poor FINDs are being called over and over! Here's how I would set them up:

pos1 = FIND(" ",A1)
pos2 = FIND(" ",A1,pos1)
pos3 = FIND(" ",A1,pos2)
pos4 = FIND(" ",A1,pos3)
int1 = LEFT(A1,1)
int2 = MID(A1,pos1+1,1)
int3 = MID(A1,pos2+1,1)
int4 = MID(A1,pos3+1,1)
int5 = MID(A1,pos4+1,1)
result = IFERROR(int1,"")&IFERROR(int2,"")&IFERROR(int3,"")&IFERROR(int4,"")&IFERROR(int5,"")

Then you just type in =result -- a whopping 6 characters (4, with autocomplete)!! Ok, perhaps I'm being a little facecious, since there are actually more formulas at play -- adding up all the characters used in the all named formulas, you get a grand total of 231, which is still a 30-character/11% reduction. And I bet it's a ton faster than the original, to boot.


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