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Phantom Counts

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: Phantom Counts.

There are two closely related worksheet functions in Excel: COUNT and COUNTA. The COUNT function counts all cells that contain numbers, while the COUNTA function counts all cells that are not empty. Thus, if you use COUNTA, you would get "phantom counts" if a cell contained a space; this problem would not occur if you used the COUNT function.

What can cause "phantom counts" when using COUNT is if some cells contain the value zero. This is considered a number by Excel, so it includes that cell in the count. The confusion often pops up if you have the worksheet configured to not display zero values. Thus, the cell could appear to be empty, but really contain a zero which affects COUNT.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2574) 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: Phantom Counts.

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