Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. 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: Returning Zero when a Referenced Cell is Blank.

Returning Zero When a Referenced Cell is Blank

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated June 10, 2017)

If you have a formula in a worksheet, and the cell referenced by the formula is blank, then the formula still returns a zero value. For instance, if you have the formula =A3, then the formula returns the contents of cell A3, unless cell A3 is blank. In that case, the formula returns a value of zero.

This seems to be related to the idea that it is impossible for a formula to return a blank value, when "blank" is used synonymously with "empty." You can, however, expand your formula a bit so that it returns an empty string. Instead of using =A3 as your formula, you would use the following:

=IF(ISBLANK(A3),"",A3)

This formula uses ISBLANK, which returns either True or False, depending on whether the referenced cell (A3) is blank or not. The IF function then returns an empty string ("") if A3 is blank, or it uses the value in A3 if A3 is not blank.

Regardless of what the formula returns, you can still use its result in other formulas, and it will work fine. Even if it returns an empty string, it is still treated by other formulas as if it contained zero. In areas where treating the cell as if it contained zero might be problematic (such as when you are charting the results of the formula), then you can modify the formula a bit, as shown here:

=IF(ISBLANK(A3),NA(),A3)

This formula returns the #N/A error if A3 is blank. This error propagates through other formulas that reference the formula, but the #N/A error is ignored completely when charting.

While the above solutions are satisfactory for most people, some people would really like to see a target cell be truly blank if the source cell is blank. For instance, you might want cell B7 to be blank if cell A3 is blank. If you put a formula in cell B7 (as already discussed), then cell B7 is not truly blank—it contains a formula.

If this is your goal—true "blankness"—then you can only achieve it through the use of a macro. The macro will need to check to see if the source cell was changed. If it was, then whatever is in the source needs to be copied to the target cell.

Private Sub Worksheet_Change(ByVal Target As Excel.Range)
    Dim rMonitor As Range
    Dim rTarget As Range

    Set rMonitor = Range("A3")
    Set rTarget = Range("B7")

    If Not Intersect(Target, rMonitor) Is Nothing Then
        rMonitor.Copy rTarget
    End If

    Set rMonitor = Nothing
    Set rTarget = Nothing
End Sub

Note:

If you would like to know how to use the macros described on this page (or on any other page on the ExcelTips sites), I've prepared a special page that includes helpful information. Click here to open that special page in a new browser tab.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (10105) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Returning Zero when a Referenced Cell is Blank.

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. ...

MORE FROM ALLEN

Index Number for the Active Table

For some programming needs, it is important to determine the index of an object within a collection of such objects. This ...

Discover More

Picking Different Random Numbers from a Range

It is not unusual to need to select two random items from a list. There are a couple of ways you can approach the task; ...

Discover More

Modifying How Windows Notifies You of Impending Changes

Part of the security system built into Windows involves notifying you when changes are about to occur to your system. ...

Discover More

Solve Real Business Problems Master business modeling and analysis techniques with Excel and transform data into bottom-line results. This hands-on, scenario-focused guide shows you how to use the latest Excel tools to integrate data from multiple tables. Check out Microsoft Excel 2013 Data Analysis and Business Modeling today!

More ExcelTips (ribbon)

Calculating Statistical Values on Different-Sized Subsets of Data

Discovering different ways to analyze your data can be a challenge. Here's how to work with arbitrary subsets of a large ...

Discover More

Determining If a Value is Out of Limits

Need to figure out if a value is outside of some arbitrary limit related to a different value? There are a number of ways ...

Discover More

Using a Formula to Replace Spaces with Dashes

If you need a formula to change spaces to some other character, the SUBSTITUTE function fits the bill. Here's how to use it.

Discover More
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.

Comments

If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Maximum image size is 6Mpixels. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is 9 + 7?

There are currently no comments for this tip. (Be the first to leave your comment—just use the simple form above!)


This Site

Got a version of Excel that uses the ribbon interface (Excel 2007 or later)? This site is for you! If you use an earlier version of Excel, visit our ExcelTips site focusing on the menu interface.

Newest Tips
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.