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Counting Cells with Specific Characters

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: Counting Cells with Specific Characters.

Let's say that you have a worksheet that contains all the people who have ever worked in your department. Each name is prefaced by a single character that indicates the status of the person. For instance, if Fred Davis were retired, his name might show up as "RFred Davis". With quite a lot of these names in the worksheet, you may need a way to count those people with a specific status character.

The easiest way to accomplish this is to use the COUNTIF function. If, for instance, the status character is the letter R (for "retired"), and your range of names is in cells A5:A52, then you could use the following to determine which cells begin with the letter R:


The formula works because the comparison value is R*, which means "the letter R followed by any other characters." Excel dutifully returns the count. To search for a different status character, simply replace R with the desired status character.

Obviously, if the asterisk has a special meaning in this usage, you can't search directly for an asterisk. Actually, there are three characters you cannot search for directly: the asterisk (*), the question mark (?) and the tilde (~). If you want to search for any of these characters, you must precede the character with the tilde. Thus, if you wanted to determine a count of names that had a question mark as a status code, you could use the following:


An alternative to using COUNTIF is to create an array formula that is applied to every cell in the range. The following will do the trick very nicely:


This must, of course, be entered as an array formula. This means that instead of pressing Enter at the end of the formula, you would press Shift+Ctrl+Enter. The formula checks the left-most character of a cell, returning the value TRUE if it is R or FALSE if it is not. The multiplication is done to convert the TRUE/FALSE value to a number, either 1 for TRUE or 0 for FALSE. The SUM function returns the sum, or count, of all the cells that meet the criteria.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2342) 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: Counting Cells with Specific Characters.

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