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Understanding Operators

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Excel 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Excel, click here: Understanding Operators.

Operators are symbols used in a formula to define the relationship between two or more cell references, or between two or more values. They cause Excel to perform some action. For instance, consider the following formula:

= B3 + B4

In this case, the plus sign is the operator. This is not the only operator that Excel supports, however. There are several types of operators supported by Excel. Operators of the most common type, arithmetic, are shown here:

Operator Meaning
+ Addition
 Subtraction
* Multiplication
/ Division
% Percent (placed after a value)
^ Exponentiation

Excel also supports Boolean, or comparison, operators. These operators are used to compare two values or expressions, returning either the logical value TRUE or FALSE. These are special values supported by Excel to represent the outcome of a comparison. Comparison operators are used most often in arguments for logical functions. For example, consider the following formula:

=IF(B3 > 99,"Limit has been exceeded","")

This formula uses the IF function to determine whether the value contained in cell B3 is greater than 99. If it is, the indicated text message is displayed in the cell containing this formula. Otherwise, nothing is displayed.

As you develop more complex Excel worksheets, you will find yourself relying more and more on comparison operators. The comparison operators are listed in Table 1-3.

Operator Meaning
= Equal to
> Greater than
>= Greater than or equal to
< Less than
<= Less than or equal to
<> Not equal to

Finally, Excel also provides a text operator, which is used to combine (or concatenate) text. This operator is the ampersand (&) character.

You should note that operators only function as operators when they are in formulas. If you want to make sure that a character is not interpreted as an operator, then you need to enclose it within quote marks. For instance, consider the following:

= A1 & " & " & B1

If there are names of people (Bill and Betty) in cells A1 and B1, then the result of this formula would be the following:

Bill & Betty

Note that there are three ampersands in the formula, but only two of them are considered operators. The ampersand within the quote marks is treated as a string by Excel.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (1921) applies to Microsoft Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Excel (Excel 2007 and later) here: Understanding Operators.

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