Computing

How to Perform Subtraction in Excel

Subtracting numbers in Microsoft Excel may require a different approach than what you’re accustomed to, but fear not! We’re here to guide you through four distinct methods for subtraction in Excel. Whether you prefer working within a cell, utilizing numbers from different cells, making use of the SUM function, or employing the status bar, we have you covered. Let’s dive into the various techniques for subtracting in Excel.

Subtracting Within a Cell

If you simply need to subtract two numbers quickly, you can achieve this within a single cell on your Excel spreadsheet. Here’s how:

Step 1: Click on an empty cell in your Excel spreadsheet. Within that cell, type the following formula (without the brackets and spaces):

=[first number] – [second number]

For instance, you can use the formula =9-1 as an example.

Subtracting two numbers within a cell in Excel using a formula.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Step 2: Press Enter on your keyboard.

The correct answer to your subtraction math problem should immediately appear, replacing the formula you typed in. In our example, the answer displayed is 8.

The correct answer that appears after using a formula to subtract two numbers within a cell in Excel.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Subtracting in Different Cells

If you have numbers located in separate cells within your spreadsheet that you wish to subtract, you can achieve this using cell references and a formula. Follow these steps:

Step 1: Identify the numbers you want to subtract and make note of their respective cell references. A cell reference denotes the location of a specific cell in a spreadsheet, combining the column number and row number. For example, if one of your numbers is in a cell located in column A and row 6, the cell reference for that number would be A6.

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Step 2: Click on an empty cell in your spreadsheet and type in the following formula, ensuring to omit the spaces and brackets and fill in the appropriate cell references for your numbers:

=[cell reference for the first number] – [cell reference for the second number]

In our example, the formula would be =A5-A6.

Subtracting two numbers in different cells in Excel using cell references and a formula.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Step 3: Press Enter on your keyboard.

The correct answer to the subtraction problem should automatically appear, replacing the formula you entered. In our example, with A5 being 444 and A6 being 227, the answer displayed is 217.

The answer that appears after using cell references and a formula to subtract two numbers in different cells in Excel.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Subtracting Using the SUM Function

Although Excel does not feature a dedicated subtract function, you can still subtract numbers using the SUM function. Here’s how:

Step 1: Click on an empty cell and type in the following formula, replacing the placeholders with your own numbers:

=SUM(first number, -second number)

Note: It doesn’t matter which number becomes negative, as long as one of them is to facilitate the subtraction.

For example, if you want to subtract 227 from 444, the formula can be either =SUM(444, -227) or =SUM(-227, 444).

Using the SUM function to subtract two numbers in Excel.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Step 2: Press Enter on your keyboard.

The correct answer should immediately replace the formula you entered. In our example, the answer is 217.

Subtracting Using the Status Bar

You don’t always need to enter a formula to subtract numbers in Excel. You can take advantage of Excel’s status bar, located at the bottom of your screen. Simply enter your numbers into individual cells, making one of them negative. For example, to subtract 227 from 444, enter 444 in one cell and -227 in the cell next to it.

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Next, select both cells and observe the status bar at the bottom of the screen. Your answer will be displayed next to SUM:

Using the status bar in Excel to subtract two numbers.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Now you’re equipped with various methods to perform subtraction in Excel. Choose the one that suits your needs and start crunching numbers effortlessly!


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