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Non-adjusting References in Formulas

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: Non-adjusting References in Formulas.

Everybody knows you can enter a formula in Excel. (What would a spreadsheet be without formulas, after all?) If you use address references in a formula, those references are automatically updated if you insert or delete cells, rows, or columns and those changes affect the address reference in some way. Consider, for example, the following simple formula:


If you insert a cell above B7, then the formula is automatically adjusted by Excel so that it appears like this:


What if you don?t want Excel to adjust the formula, however? You might try adding some dollar signs to the address, but this only affects addresses in formulas that are later copied; it doesn?t affect the formula itself if you insert or delete cells that affect the formula.

The best way to make the formula references ?non-adjusting? is to modify the formula itself to use different worksheet functions. For instance, you could use this formula in cell C7:


What this formula does is to construct an address based on whatever cell the formula appears in. The ROW function returns the row number of the cell (C7 in this case, so the value 7 is returned) and then the INDIRECT function is used to reference the constructed address, such as A7 and B7. If you insert (or delete) cells above A7 or B7, the reference in cell C7 is not disturbed, as it just blithely constructs a brand new address.

Another approach is to use the OFFSET function to construct a similar type of reference:


This formula simply looks at where it is (in column C) and compares the values in the cells that are to its left. This formula is similarly undisturbed if you happen to insert or delete cells in either column A or B.

A final approach (and perhaps the slickest one) is to use named formulas. This is a feature of Excel?s naming capabilities that is rarely used by most people. Follow these steps:

  1. Select cell C2.
  2. Choose Name from the Insert menu, then choose Define from the submenu. Excel displays the Define Name dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Define Name dialog box.

  4. In the Names in Workbook box, enter the name CompareMe. (You can use a different name, if you desire.)
  5. Erase whatever is in the Refers To box, replacing it with the following formula:
  6.      =IF(A2=B2,"YES","NO")
  7. Click OK.

At this point you?ve created your named formula. You can now use it in any cell in column C in this manner:


It compares whatever is in the two cells to its left, just as your original formula was designed to do. Better still, the formula is not automatically adjusted as you insert or delete cells.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2876) 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: Non-adjusting References in Formulas.

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Excel Smarts for Beginners! Featuring the friendly and trusted For Dummies style, this popular guide shows beginners how to get up and running with Excel while also helping more experienced users get comfortable with the newest features. Check out Excel 2013 For Dummies today!


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Comments for this tip:

Steven    31 Oct 2016, 17:59
DUDE! I want to kiss you. I've been looking all over for a way to use an IF formula without it getting messed up when I insert.
stoica aurora    06 Oct 2016, 10:05
I am using the following formula and when i insert a row in the source worksheet i would like F56 to change to F57 but it does not.

INDIRECT("'"&A2&"'"&"!" &"F56")

Please help.
Ernie    15 Jul 2016, 12:36
I am using the following formula and when i insert a row in the source worksheet i would like F56 to change to F57 but it does not.

INDIRECT("'"&A2&"'"&"!" &"F56")

Please help.
yonas    31 Mar 2016, 10:45
hello, help me how can i solve the ff
i need to add the value of A to C and the value of C should not be changed if i delete A is should be constant and must add to C if i inter a number to A.
in short the value of C should be increase as i inter data to A.
please, please help help....
James    23 Mar 2016, 13:26
This was extremely helpful. I am managing a database that is inter-related another's database. I have cross checked their 500+ records but I have no way of knowing when a record is added to the other db. So I have my list, my snapshot of theirs at a certain point in time and, now and again, I need to compare a new snapshot to the old and see what has been added. This allows me to scroll down the list and add a cell now and again to bring things back into alignment, by rows, which highlights what is new in the other database and needs to be integrated into mine. So far, this is the only solution that has worked.
Cliff Miller    01 Mar 2016, 17:42
Wow, the named formula was just what I needed. I'm using a macro to insert new data and push over old data. It was a pain to see formulas referencing specific cells (for a graph of last 7 days) move along with the pushed data, but that did the trick and was so easy! Thanks a ton!
Brent    08 Oct 2015, 17:17
I'd like to second what LesW asked. I've been wondering how to do it for years.
Kelv    15 Jun 2015, 15:53
The define name saved me a lot of time! Thanks a lot for sharing!
LesW    31 May 2015, 12:29
What if you were inserting a column that had a formula and you wanted the formula to update to include the new column. For example, in column D you had =sum(A1:C1) and you inserted a column to the left of D. The formula in E should now read =sum(A1:D1) but it doesn't. It stays at A:C. But if you insert a column to the left of B or C the formula in E is updated to A:D. Can you use OFFSET or INDIRECT to help update the formula in E?
Jeff    29 Jan 2015, 16:15
This saved us a lot of time! Thank you.
DaveBoltie    22 Jan 2015, 10:22
Well now... The best way to make the formula references "non-adjusting" is to just press F2, then copy the formula as text, and paste it into another cell. The references are not adjusted. Seems much simpler than INDIRECT, which you may not have in your formula to start with

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