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How Operators are Evaluated

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: How Operators are Evaluated.

The operators in a formula are generally evaluated from left to right. Thus, in the following formula the addition is performed first and then the subtraction:

= C7 + A2 – B3

However, this is not always the case. For instance, Excel will perform any exponentiation first, then multiplication or division, then addition or subtraction, then text concatenation, and finally any comparisons. Thus, in the following formula, the multiplication is performed before the addition, even though the multiplication occurs to the right of the addition:

= C12 + D4 * A1

The order in which operators are evaluated is referred to as precedence. Operators with higher precedence are evaluated before those with lower precedence. The following is the order of evaluation for operators in Excel.

Operator Meaning
 Negative indicator (such as –123)
% Percent
^ Exponent
* and / Multiplication and division
+ and – Addition and subtraction
& Text concatenation
= < > <= >= <> Comparison

As you enter formulas, you will want to remember these rules so you can get the desired results. If you cannot remember them or you want to change the order in which operations are performed, you can use parentheses. For instance, if you wanted the addition to occur before the multiplication in the previous formula, you would enter it like this:

= (C12 + D4) * A1

As you work with formulas in Excel, you will find yourself using parentheses quite often. The reason for this is simple—they remove any confusion about how a formula should be processed by Excel.

As a real-world example, suppose you were developing a formula that applied tax to the sum of two different values. For instance, if you want to take the value in cell F2, add $5.00 to it, and then adjust for tax (assuming 5.25% in your state), the formula would be written as follows:

= (F2 + 5) * 105.25%

For the sake of simplicity, if the value in F2 is $95.00, then the result of this formula would be $105.25. Without the parentheses, however, the result would be $100.26 because Excel would do the multiplication (5 * 105.25%) first and then add the result to the value in F2.

Remember, parentheses remove any confusion that might arise concerning what a formula means.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2040) 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: How Operators are Evaluated.

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