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: Understanding Operators.

Understanding Operators

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated August 19, 2017)

Operators are symbols used in a formula to define the relationship between two or more cell references, or between two or more values. They cause Excel to perform some action. For instance, consider the following formula:

= B3 + B4

In this case, the plus sign is the operator. This is not the only operator that Excel supports, however. There are several types of operators supported by Excel. Operators of the most common type, arithmetic, are shown here:

Operator Meaning
+ Addition
 Subtraction
* Multiplication
/ Division
% Percent (placed after a value)
^ Exponentiation

Excel also supports Boolean, or comparison, operators. These operators are used to compare two values or expressions, returning either the logical value TRUE or FALSE. These are special values supported by Excel to represent the outcome of a comparison. Comparison operators are used most often in arguments for logical functions. For example, consider the following formula:

=IF(B3 > 99,"Limit has been exceeded","")

This formula uses the IF function to determine whether the value contained in cell B3 is greater than 99. If it is, the indicated text message is displayed in the cell containing this formula. Otherwise, nothing is displayed.

As you develop more complex Excel worksheets, you will find yourself relying more and more on comparison operators. The comparison operators are listed in Table 1-3.

Operator Meaning
= Equal to
> Greater than
>= Greater than or equal to
< Less than
<= Less than or equal to
<> Not equal to

Finally, Excel also provides a text operator, which is used to combine (or concatenate) text. This operator is the ampersand (&) character.

You should note that operators only function as operators when they are in formulas. If you want to make sure that a character is not interpreted as an operator, then you need to enclose it within quote marks. For instance, consider the following:

= A1 & " & " & B1 & " work together"

If there are names of people (Bill and Betty) in cells A1 and B1, then the result of this formula would be the following:

Bill & Betty work together

Note that there are four ampersands in the formula, but only three of them are considered operators. The ampersand within the quote marks is treated as a string by Excel.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (12426) 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: Understanding Operators.

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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