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: Counting Cells with Specific Characters.

Counting Cells with Specific Characters

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated August 22, 2015)


Let's say that you have a worksheet that contains all the people who have ever worked in your department. Each name is prefaced by a single character that indicates the status of the person. For instance, if Fred Davis were retired, his name might show up as "RFred Davis". With quite a lot of these names in the worksheet, you may need a way to count those people with a specific status character.

The easiest way to accomplish this is to use the COUNTIF function. If, for instance, the status character is the letter R (for "retired"), and your range of names is in cells A5:A52, then you could use the following to determine which cells begin with the letter R:


The formula works because the comparison value is R*, which means "the letter R followed by any other characters." Excel dutifully returns the count. To search for a different status character, simply replace R with the desired status character.

Obviously, if the asterisk has a special meaning in this usage, you can't search directly for an asterisk. Actually, there are three characters you cannot search for directly: the asterisk (*), the question mark (?) and the tilde (~). If you want to search for any of these characters, you must precede the character with the tilde. Thus, if you wanted to determine a count of names that had a question mark as a status code, you could use the following:


An alternative to using COUNTIF is to create an array formula that is applied to every cell in the range. The following will do the trick very nicely:


This must, of course, be entered as an array formula. This means that instead of pressing Enter at the end of the formula, you would press Shift+Ctrl+Enter. The formula checks the left-most character of a cell, returning the value TRUE if it is R or FALSE if it is not. The multiplication is done to convert the TRUE/FALSE value to a number, either 1 for TRUE or 0 for FALSE. The SUM function returns the sum, or count, of all the cells that meet the criteria.

One final note: The formulas provided in this tip are a way to deal with the data as originally presented at the first of the tip. If you have any control at all over your data, you really should consider removing the "R" (or any other leading status character) from the names. Those sort of characters really deserve their own column, instead of complicating the name field. Use the Text to Columns tool to separate out the "R" and any other leading characters, and then you can more easily work with them in your formulas.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (9871) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, and 2013. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Counting Cells with Specific Characters.

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 three more than 5?

2017-08-17 05:01:52

Peter therton


or to get both together

2017-08-15 17:00:44


I am trying to use the SUM formula above. I want to be able to tally how many cells have one of 5 selections from a dropdown . I can use this formula on 3 of them, because the words start with diff letters (S,T,P), but the other two selections both start with an "E". How might I adapt this formula to include the first 2 letters of each dropdown selection? That would get me the tallys for the 2 different "E" selections (EV* and EC*). Thank you in advance!!

2017-07-21 04:18:57



Try this Array formula

=SUM(IF(MID(A17:A20,2,1)=C18,1,"")) (enter with Ctl + Shift + Enter)

where c18 contains the letter to look for.

2017-07-20 17:25:09


looking to calculate the sum of names that would have the same second letter on an excel spread sheet

2016-09-27 14:19:37


I wish to count " ?" and "!" two punctuation marks from text of rows. Using your above formula =COUNTIF(A5:A52,"~?*") . I could not get the desired results.
Here I am just pasting records (2 rows).

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Kindly inform where I am committing mistake. I put these text in column A then put = in column B and use the above formula by selecting the range.


Mr. Jagdish

2015-08-27 07:15:38



Step 1 of IT: always assume there will be errors. Most of these caused by users.

2015-08-24 03:27:20


I think it would be useful to benefit from SUMPRODUCT Excel function.
Two remarks:
- "+" or "--" before LEFT is necessary to trigger evaluation in a "numeric" mode
-this approach does not require formula mode.

I have tested it on Polish version
I hope I have transformed correctly to the English one.

2015-08-22 10:05:40

Dave H.

Refer to the second sentence of this article - "Each name is prefaced by a single character that indicates the status of the person." - Thus their name would have some leading character such as "A" (for Active), "T" (for Temporary), "R" (for Retired) etc. So names would be listed as "ARobert", "TRobert", "RRobert", etc. Their should never be an instance where their name would be listed as simply "Robert".

2015-08-22 07:39:45

Peter Curtis

What happens if the person's name is Robert or Roger and they are not retired?

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