Learn the difference between a relative absolute cell reference in Excel and an absolute cell reference in Excel in this free lesson.
There are two types of cell references: relative and absolute. Relative and absolute references behave differently when copied and filled to other cells. Relative references change when a formula is copied to another cell. Absolute references, on the other hand, remain constant no matter where they are copied.
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By default, all cell references are relative references. When copied across multiple cells, they change based on the relative position of rows and columns. For example, if you copy the formula =A1+B1 from row 1 to row 2, the formula will become =A2+B2. Relative references are especially convenient whenever you need to repeat the same calculation across multiple rows or columns.
In the following example, we want to create a formula that will multiply each item's price by the quantity. Rather than create a new formula for each row, we can create a single formula in cell D2 and then copy it to the other rows. We'll use relative references so the formula correctly calculates the total for each item.
You can double-click the filled cells to check their formulas for accuracy. The relative cell references should be different for each cell, depending on its row.
There may be times when you do not want a cell reference to change when filling cells. Unlike relative references, absolute references do not change when copied or filled. You can use an absolute reference to keep a row and/or column constant.
An absolute reference is designated in a formula by the addition of a dollar sign ($). It can precede the column reference, the row reference, or both.
You will usually use the $A$2 format when creating formulas that contain absolute references. The other two formats are used much less frequently.
When writing a formula in Microsoft Excel, you can press the F4 key on your keyboard to switch between relative and absolute cell references. This is an easy way to quickly insert an absolute reference.
In our example, we'll use the 7.5% sales tax rate in cell E1 to calculate the sales tax for all items in column D. We'll need to use the absolute cell reference $E$1 in our formula. Because each formula is using the same tax rate, we want that reference to remain constant when the formula is copied and filled to other cells in column D.
You can double-click the filled cells to check their formulas for accuracy. The absolute reference should be the same for each cell, while the other references are relative to the cell's row.
Be sure to include the dollar sign ($) whenever you're making an absolute reference across multiple cells. The dollar signs were omitted in the example below. This caused the spreadsheet to interpret it as a relative reference, producing an incorrect result when copied to other cells.
Most spreadsheet programs allow you to refer to any cell on any worksheet, which can be especially helpful if you want to reference a specific value from one worksheet to another. To do this, you'll simply need to begin the cell reference with the worksheet name followed by an exclamation point (!). For example, if you wanted to reference cell A1 on Sheet1, its cell reference would be Sheet1!A1.
Note that if a worksheet name contains a space, you will need to include single quotation marks (' ') around the name. For example, if you wanted to reference cell A1 on a worksheet named July Budget, its cell reference would be 'July Budget'!A1.
In our example below, we'll refer to a cell with a calculated value between two worksheets. This will allow us to use the exact same value on two different worksheets without rewriting the formula or copying data between worksheets.
If you rename your worksheet at a later point, the cell reference will be updated automatically to reflect the new worksheet name.