Relative and Absolute Cell References

Learn the difference between a relative absolute cell reference in Excel and an absolute cell reference in Excel in this free lesson.

Absolute references

There may be a time when you don't want a cell reference to change when copied to other 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.

$A$2, the column and the row do not change when copied; A$2, the row does not change; $A2, the column does not change

You will generally 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, you can press the F4 key on your keyboard to switch between relative and absolute cell references, as shown in the video below. This is an easy way to quickly insert an absolute reference.

To create and copy a formula using absolute references:

In the example below, we're going to use cell E2 (which contains the tax rate at 7.5%) to calculate the sales tax for each item in column D. To make sure the reference to the tax rate stays constant—even when the formula is copied and filled to other cells—we'll need to make cell $E$2 an absolute reference.

  1. Select the cell that will contain the formula. In our example, we'll select cell D4.
    Selecting a cell
  2. Enter the formula to calculate the desired value. In our example, we'll type =(B4*C4)*$E$2, making $E$2 an absolute reference.
    Entering a formula
  3. Press Enter on your keyboard. The formula will calculate, and the result will display in the cell.
  4. Locate the fill handle in the bottom-right corner of the desired cell. In our example, we'll locate the fill handle for cell D4.
    Locating the fill handle
  5. Click and drag the fill handle over the cells you want to fill (cells D5:D13 in our example).
    Dragging the fill handle
  6. Release the mouse. The formula will be copied to the selected cells with an absolute reference, and the values will be calculated in each cell.
    Formula result

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.

Checking the formula

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 Excel to interpret it as a relative reference, producing an incorrect result when copied to other cells.

Incorrectly copied formula