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: Returning Blanks or Asterisks from a Lookup.

Returning Blanks or Asterisks from a Lookup

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated June 20, 2015)

Bob asked if there was a way to use VLOOKUP to return blanks or asterisks if the function cannot make a match in a lookup table.

Yes, this can be done, but not without making your formula just a bit more complex. The trick is to remember that VLOOKUP can operate in one of two ways. By default, it returns the next lower value to the one being looked for, if the data table is in ascending order and if there isn't an exact match. However, you can force VLOOKUP to only return exact matches, if desired. Consider the following example:

=VLOOKUP(5,A1:B10,2,FALSE)

This example searches through the lookup table (A1:B10) looking for the value 5 in the first column of the table. If it is found, then the corresponding value from the second column is returned. If it is not found, then VLOOKUP returns an #N/A error, indicating it could not locate the value. (The FALSE value as the fourth parameter indicates you don't want approximate matches.)

The key, then, is to play off this #N/A value and build what you want returned if there isn't a match. The following formula will return a series of five asterisks if there wasn't a match in the lookup:

=IF(ISNA(VLOOKUP(5,A1:B10,2,FALSE)),"*****",VLOOKUP(5,A1:B10,2,FALSE))

The ISNA function is used to test if the result of VLOOKUP is the #N/A error. If it is, then the asterisks are returned; if not, then the lookup value is returned. If you want the formula to return "nothing," then you can use this variation:

=IF(ISNA(VLOOKUP(5,A1:B10,2,FALSE)),"",VLOOKUP(5,A1:B10,2,FALSE))

This version returns a blank string if there was not a match in the lookup table. For some uses, this may not be exactly what you want. You may find it more appropriate to return a zero, and then hide zeroes in the worksheet (Tools | Options | View tab | clear the Zero Values check box). If you'd like a zero returned, then it takes only one change:

=IF(ISNA(VLOOKUP(5,A1:B10,2,FALSE)),0,VLOOKUP(5,A1:B10,2,FALSE))

Of course, you could also use the IFERROR function to find what you need. The following variation on the formula will work just fine:

IFERROR(VLOOKUP(5,A1:B10,2,FALSE),"*****")

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (10940) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, and 2013. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Returning Blanks or Asterisks from a Lookup.

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

Cannot View Graphics in a Document

Got a problem where you can't view any of the graphics you insert in your document? The solution could be simple, or you ...

Discover More

Duplex Printing from Multiple Trays

Printing in duplex has not always been easy in Word, particularly when you want that printing to be controlled by a ...

Discover More

Removing Automatic Lines

Type a few dashes, underscores, or equal signs, and you could end up with a full-width line in your document. This is ...

Discover More

Professional Development Guidance! Four world-class developers offer start-to-finish guidance for building powerful, robust, and secure applications with Excel. The authors show how to consistently make the right design decisions and make the most of Excel's powerful features. Check out Professional Excel Development today!

More ExcelTips (ribbon)

Indirect References to a DSUM Parameter

Indirect references can be very helpful in formulas, but getting your head around how they work can sometimes be ...

Discover More

Using the INT Worksheet Function

The INT function allows you to convert a value to an integer. The effect the function has depends on the characteristics ...

Discover More

Strange ATAN Results

You may use Excel's trigonometric functions to do some quick calculations, and suddenly notice that the results in your ...

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 6 + 9?

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.