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: Relative References to Cells in Other Workbooks.

Relative References to Cells in Other Workbooks

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated October 29, 2016)

When Stephen is creating a formula and refers to a cell in another worksheet in the same workbook, the reference is always relative (A1). However, when he refers to a cell in another workbook, the reference is always absolute ($A$1). Stephen wonders if there is a way of getting this to be automatically relative (A1) without having to go into the cell and press F4 three times.

The typical way to deal with this situation is to simply edit the reference in the formula, as you are effectively doing. There are, however, two other ways that you can approach this problem, if you desire.

The first idea is to simply create all your formulas, but leave the absolute references in place. Then, as a "final" step, use Find and Replace to get rid of the dollar signs in the formulas. All you need to do is follow these steps:

  1. Select the cells that have the formulas in them.
  2. Press Ctrl+H. Excel displays the Replace tab of the Find and Replace dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Replace tab of the Find and Replace dialog box.

  4. In the Find What box, enter a single dollar sign.
  5. Make sure the Replace With box is empty.
  6. Click Replace All.

That's it; all the dollar signs in the selected cells are deleted, leaving relative references, as desired. If you have some absolute references in those cells that you want to remain, then you should use the controls in the Find and Replace dialog box to step through each instance and do the replacement, as desired.

The second idea is quite novel, really. If your references are all to the same worksheet in the external workbook, then follow these general steps:

  1. Move the target worksheet to the workbook that will contain the formulas. (Actually move it, don't just copy it.)
  2. Create your formulas. Since the target worksheet is now within the same workbook as your formula, the references in those formulas will be relative, by default.
  3. Save your workbook.
  4. Move the target worksheet (the one you moved in step 1) back to its original workbook.

What happens with these steps is that when you move the worksheet back to its original workbook, Excel updates the first part of the formula references to include the information about the external workbook. It does not, however, change the cell references in those formulas from relative to absolute.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (11226) 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: Relative References to Cells in Other Workbooks.

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

Working with Form Fields

You know you want to use form fields in your document (they are essential in creating forms, after all) but you need to ...

Discover More

Switching Editing Location

Excel allows you to edit the contents of a cell in two places—the cell itself or in the Formula bar. If you want to ...

Discover More

Automatically Adding 20% to an Entry

When you are developing a worksheet for others to use, you may want to have entries in a particular cell (or cells) be ...

Discover More

Excel Smarts for Beginners! Featuring the friendly and trusted For Dummies style, this popular guide shows beginners how to get up and running with Excel while also helping more experienced users get comfortable with the newest features. Check out Excel 2013 For Dummies today!

More ExcelTips (ribbon)

Separating Names into Individual Columns

If you have a list of names in a column, and you want to separate those names into individual cells, there are several ...

Discover More

Figuring Out the Low-Score Winner

Need to figure out the lowest score in a range of scores? Here's the formulas to get the information you need.

Discover More

Determining Winners, by Category

Do you need to determine the top three values in a range of columns? The techniques discussed in this tip will come in ...

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 5 + 2?

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.