Creating Simple Formulas

In Google Sheets simple formulas can help you calculate important data. Learn how to create simple formulas in Google Sheets.

Introduction

When working with numerical information, Google Sheets can be used to perform calculations. In this lesson, you'll learn how to create simple formulas that will add, subtract, multiply, and divide values. You will also be introduced to the basics of using cell references in formulas.

Creating simple formulas

A convenient and time-saving feature of Google Sheets is its ability to add, subtract, multiply, and divide numerical information for you. Google Sheets uses mathematical expressions called formulas that make handling these calculations easy. In this lesson, we'll focus on formulas that contain one mathematical operator.

Most of the time, you will be using a cell's address in the formula. This is called using a cell reference. The advantage of using cell references is that you can change a value in a referenced cell and the formula will automatically recalculate. Using cell references in your formulas will make sure the values in your formulas are accurate.

Watch the video below to learn how to work with simple formulas in Google Sheets.

Mathematical operators

Google Sheets uses standard operators for formulas: a plus sign for addition (+), minus sign for subtraction (-), asterisk for multiplication (*), forward slash for division (/), and caret (^) for exponents.

Standard operators

All formulas must begin with an equals sign (=). This is because the cell contains—or is equal to—the formula and the value it calculates.

Using cell references

When a formula contains a cell address, it is using a cell reference. Creating a formula with cell references is useful because you can update the numerical values in cells without having to rewrite the formula.

Using cell references to recalculate a formula

By combining a mathematical operator with cell references, you can create a variety of simple formulas in Google Sheets. Formulas can also include a combination of a cell reference and a number.

Examples of simple formulas

Creating formulas

In our example, we'll use simple formulas and cell references to help calculate a budget.

To create a formula:

  1. Select the cell that will display the calculated value.
    Selecting cell
  2. Type the equals sign (=).
  3. Type the cell address of the cell you want to reference first in the formula. A dotted border will appear around the cell being referenced.
    Typing a cell address
  4. Type the operator you want to use. For example, type the addition sign (+).
  5. Type the cell address of the cell you want to reference second in the formula.
    Completing the formula
  6. Press the Enter key on your keyboard. The formula calculates, and Google Sheets displays the result.
    The result

To see how the formula recalculates, try changing the value in either cell. The formula automatically displays the new value.

The recalculated value

Google Sheets will not always tell you if your formula contains an error, so it's up to you to check all of your formulas. To learn how to do this, read our article on why you should Double-Check Your Formulas.

    To create a formula using the point-and-click method:

    Rather than type cell addresses, you can point and click the cells you want to include in your formula.

    1. Select the cell that will display the calculated value.Selecting the cell
    2. Type the equals sign (=).
    3. Click the cell you want to reference first in the formula. The address of the cell appears in the formula.
      Entering the first cell reference
    4. Type the operator you want to use in the formula. For example, type the multiplication sign (*).

    5. Click the cell you want to reference second in the formula. The address of the cell appears in the formula.Completing the cell reference

    6. Press the Enter key on your keyboard. The formula will be calculated, and the value will appear in the cell.

      The calculated value

    To edit a formula:

    Sometimes you may want to modify an existing formula. In our example, we typed an incorrect cell address in our formula, so we need to correct it.

    1. Double-click the cell containing the formula you want to edit. The formula will be displayed in the cell.Viewing the formula
    2. Make the desired edits to the formula. In our example, we will replace C4 with C5.Editing the formula
    3. When you're finished, press the Enter key on your keyboard. The formula recalculates, and the new value displays in the cell.Viewing the recalculated result

    Challenge!

    1. Open our example file. Make sure you're signed in to Google, then click File > Make a copy.
    2. Select the Challenge sheet.
    3. In cell D4, create a formula that multiplies cells B4 and C4. Be sure to use cell references.
    4. Use the fill handle to copy the formula to cells D5 and D6.
    5. In cell D7, create a formula that adds cells D4, D5, and D6.
    6. Change the quantity in cell B4 to 15. You should also see cells D4 and D7 change.
    7. When you're finished, your spreadsheet should look something like this:
      simple formulas challenge