Cell Basics

In Excel cell function and references are helpful to better understand Excel spreadsheets. Use Excel cell reference functions as well.

Introduction

Excel 2010

You will need to know the basic ways you can work with cells and cell content in Excel to be able to use it to calculate, analyze, and organize data. In this lesson, you will learn how to select cells, insert content, and delete cells and cell content. You will also learn how to cut, copy, and paste cells; drag and drop cells; and fill cells using the fill handle.

Introduction to cells and cell content

Video: Cell Basics in Excel 2010

Launch video!Watch the video (3:55).

Cells are the basic building blocks of a worksheet. They can contain a variety of content such as text, formatting attributes, formulas, and functions. To work with cells, you'll need to know how to select them, insert content, and delete cells and cell content.

Optional: You can download this example for extra practice.

The cell

Each rectangle in a worksheet is called a cell. A cell is the intersection of a row and a column.

Row 4, Column D Row 4, Column D

Each cell has a name, or a cell address based on which column and row it intersects. The cell address of a selected cell appears in the name box. Here, you can see that C5 is selected.

Cell address Cell address

You can also select multiple cells at the same time. A group of cells is known as a cell range. Rather than a single cell address, you will refer to a cell range using the cell addresses of the first and last cells in the cell range, separated by a colon. For example, a cell range that included cells A1, A2, A3, A4, and A5 would be written as A1:A5.

If the columns in your spreadsheet are labeled with numbers instead of letters, you'll need to change the default reference style for Excel. Review our Extra on What are Reference Styles? to learn how.

To select a cell:

  1. Click a cell to select it. When a cell is selected, you will notice that the borders of the cell appear bold Cursor and the column heading and row heading of the cell are highlighted.
  2. Release your mouse. The cell will stay selected until you click another cell in the worksheet.

You can also navigate your worksheet and select a cell by using the arrow keys on your keyboard.

To select multiple cells:

  1. Click and drag your mouse until all of the adjoining cells you want are highlighted.
    Selecting multiple cells Selecting multiple cells
  2. Release your mouse. The cells will stay selected until you click another cell in the worksheet.

Cell content

Each cell can contain its own text, formatting, comments, formulas, and functions.

To insert content:

  1. Click a cell to select it.
  2. Enter content into the selected cell using your keyboard. The content appears in the cell and in the formula bar. You can also enter or edit cell content from the formula bar.
    Inserting content Inserting content

To delete content within cells:

  1. Select the cells containing content you want to delete.
  2. Click the Clear command on the Ribbon. A dialog box will appear.
  3. Select Clear Contents.
    Clearing cell contents Clearing cell contents

You can also use your keyboard's Backspace key to delete content from a single cell or the Delete key to delete content from multiple cells.

To delete cells:

  1. Select the cells you want to delete.
  2. Choose the Delete command from the Ribbon.
    Deleting cells Deleting cells

There's an important difference between deleting the content of a cell and deleting the cell itself. If you delete the cell, by default the cells underneath it will shift up and replace the deleted cell.

To copy and paste cell content:

  1. Select the cells you want to copy.
  2. Click the Copy command. The border of the selected cells will change appearance.
    Copying selected cells Copying selected cells
  3. Select the cell or cells where you want to paste the content.
  4. Click the Paste command. The copied content will be entered into the highlighted cells.
    Pasting selected cells Pasting selected cells

To cut and paste cell content:

  1. Select the cells you want to cut.
  2. Click the Cut command. The border of the selected cells will change appearance.
    Cutting selected cells Cutting selected cells
  3. Select the cells where you want to paste the content.
  4. Click the Paste command. The cut content will be removed from the original cells and entered into the highlighted cells.
    Pasting selected cells Pasting selected cells

To access more paste options:

There are more Paste options you can access from the drop-down menu on the Paste command. These options may be convenient to advanced users who are working with cells that contain formulas or formatting.

Accessing Paste Options Accessing Paste Options

To access formatting commands by right-clicking:

  1. Select the cells you want to format.
  2. Right-click the selected cells. A dialog box will appear where you can easily access many commands on the Ribbon.
    Right-clicking a selected cell Right-clicking a selected cell

To drag and drop cells:

  1. Select the cells you want to move.
  2. Position your mouse on one of the outside edges of the selected cells. The mouse changes from a white cross Cursor to a black cross with 4 arrowsCursor.
    Positioning the mouse to drag and drop cells Positioning the mouse to drag and drop cells
  3. Click and drag the cells to the new location.
  4. Release your mouse, and the cells will be dropped there.
    Dropped cells Dropped cells

To use the fill handle to fill cells:

  1. Select the cell or cells containing the content you want to use. You can fill cell content either vertically or horizontally.
  2. Position your mouse over the fill handle so the white cross Cursor becomes a black cross Cursor.
    Positioning the mouse to use the fill handle Positioning the mouse to use the fill handle
  3. Click and drag the fill handle until all of the cells you want to fill are highlighted.
  4. Release the mouse, and your cells will be filled.
    Filled cells Filled cells

Challenge!

  1. Open an existing Excel 2010 workbook. If you want, you can use this example.
  2. Select D3, and notice how its cell address appears in the name box and its content appears in the formula bar.
  3. Try inserting text and numbers.
  4. Use the fill handle to fill in data to adjoining cells both vertically and horizontally.
  5. Cut cells and paste them into a different location.
  6. Delete a cell, and note how the content underneath it shifts up to fill its place.
  7. Try dragging and dropping some cells to other parts of the worksheet.