Can't Enter Years in a Cell

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated May 1, 2021)

Laurie has a column that she formatted using "yyyy" as a custom format. (She wants it to contain years.) However, when she starts typing years into the column, she doesn't get what she expect. For instance, when she enters 2020 Excel converts the number to 1909. Laurie wonders why this is happening.

It is happening because of the expectations that you set for Excel. When you formatted the column using the "yyyy" custom format, you informed Excel that you wanted whatever was in the column to be considered a date. Yet, you didn't enter a date into the cells—you entered a simple numeric value of 2020. A date would be something such as 1/1/2020 or 1/1/20; these would display the year just fine because they are dates, as Excel expects.

So why does entering just 2020 cause 1909 to be displayed? Because Excel, in trying to make sense of the entry as a date, assumes you are entering a number of days. Internally, dates are stored as a serial number that indicates the number of days since 1/1/1900, with 1 representing 1/1/1900, 2 representing 1/2/1900, 3 representing 1/3/1900, and so on.

It just so happens that the number 2020 represents the date 7/13/1909 (July 13, 1909), which your formatting says should be displayed as simply 1909—the year portion of that valid date. In fact, you can see that date if you select the cell again after trying to enter 2020. Up in the formula bar you'll see how Excel converted your entry into a valid date.

The solution depends on what you want to do with the information in the column. If you simply want to enter a bunch of years, don't format the column as dates. The General format or some other numeric format will work just fine. If, instead, you want actual dates, then you'll need to enter them as such: 1/1/2020, etc.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (10161) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Office 365.

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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