Understanding the LET Function

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated August 12, 2023)
This tip applies to Excel Excel in Microsoft 365 and 2021


The LET function provides a very powerful way for you to create variables that you can use within a formula. This may sound strange, but it is quite easy to do. Consider the following very simple example:

=LET(c,7,m,8,c*m)

There are three parts in this example. The first two parts define two variables named c and m and assigns values to those variables. So, in this example c is assigned the value 7 and m is assigned the value 8. The third part of the example is a formula that uses the variables, multiplying c times m. This is the value returned by the formula—56.

You can also, though, use variables within the definition of other variables. That is shown through this very small change to the previous example:

=LET(c,7,m,c+2,c*m)

In this case, c is still assigned the value of 7, but m is assigned the value of c plus 2, which works out to be 9. Finally, the multiplication produces a result of 63. Usage of variables within definitions of other variables must be done in order, meaning that you can only use variables that were previously defined within the LET function. As an example, the following will not work because when a value is being applied to the c variable, the m variable has yet to be defined:

=LET(c,m+2,m,8,c*m)

Remember that these are very simple examples, provided just so you can see how you can create variables, assign variables to them, and then use them in an equation. The important thing is that variables and values must be defined as pairs. You must define at least one such pair in the LET function, and you cannot define more than 126 such pairs. (That would make a very long formula, as well.)

For me, the real power of the LET function comes into play if you have formulas that repeat things over and over again. As an example, consider the following formula, which determines the first Friday within a range of dates specified in cells A2 and A3. (The formula is discussed more fully in this ExcelTip.)

=IF(A2+IF(WEEKDAY(A2)<=6,6-WEEKDAY(A2),6)>A3,
"",A2+IF(WEEKDAY(A2)<=6,6-WEEKDAY(A2),6))

If you rewrite this formula to utilize the LET function, then you can make it shorter:

=LET(w,WEEKDAY(A2),IF(A2+IF(w<=6,6-w,6)>A3,"",A2+IF(w<=6,6-w,6)))

All it does is to assign to the variable w the result of applying the WEEKDAY function to the date value in cell A2. This variable (w) is then used in the formula, resulting in a much shorter formula.

Here's another example of a formula that can be used to check the last two characters in a cell and, if they are equivalent to compass directions (NE, SE, NW, or SW), then make sure those are shown as uppercase. (This formula is discussed more fully in this tip.)

=IF(LOWER(RIGHT(A1,3))=" ne", LEFT(A1,LEN(A1)-2) & "NE",
IF(LOWER(RIGHT(A1,3))=" se", LEFT(A1,LEN(A1)-2) & "SE",
IF(LOWER(RIGHT(A1,3))=" nw", LEFT(A1,LEN(A1)-2) & "NW",
IF(LOWER(RIGHT(A1,3))=" sw", LEFT(A1,LEN(A1)-2) & "SW", A1))))

Here's how you could use the LET function to shorten the formula:

=LET(sDir,LOWER(RIGHT(A1,3)),sPart,LEFT(A1,LEN(A1)-2),
IF(sDir=" ne", sPart & "NE", IF(sDir=" se", sPart & "SE",
IF(sDir=" nw", sPart & "NW", IF(sDir=" sw", sPart & "SW", A1)))))

In this case two variables are defined (sDir and sPart) and another important thing is demonstrated—the LET function will work just fine with assigning text values to the variables.

The bottom line is that LET can be used to refashion very long formulas into much shorter formulas and make them easier to understand and maintain.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (9810) applies to Microsoft Excel Excel in Microsoft 365 and 2021.

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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