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Cell and Name References in COUNTIF

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: Cell and Name References in COUNTIF.

Larry has a worksheet that uses the COUNTIF function extensively. A typical use would be similar to the following:


This works fine, but Larry would like to specify the second parameter using a cell or name reference, as in ">=B3" or ">=Goal". Problem is, Larry can't get those types of references to work.

Indeed, if you use the following syntax for COUNTIF, you will not get the results you want:


The reason is because everything within the quotes is considered to be part of a string literal. In other words, B3 doesn't (in this case) represent a cell reference, but the two characters B and 3.

The solution is to take the cell reference outside of the quote marks, in this manner:

=COUNTIF(B5:B25,">=" & B3)

In this case the B3 is not literal, but a reference to the contents of cell B3. If, for instance, cell B3 contains the value 49, then this instance of COUNTIF is translated in this manner:


If you want to use a cell reference in the formula, and you will be copying that cell reference elsewhere in your worksheet, then you may want to make sure that you use an absolute reference to the cell, as in this usage:

=COUNTIF(B5:B25,">=" & $B$3)

That way you can copy the formula without Excel changing the B3 cell reference to some other cell. You can similarly use a named cell reference in your formula using the same technique:

=COUNTIF(B5:B25,">=" & Goal)

If you prefer, you could also simply put a criteria for COUNTIF in the cell you are referencing. For instance, cell B3 could contain the text ">=49", without the quote marks. You could then simplify your use of COUNTIF in this manner:


ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (3813) 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: Cell and Name References in COUNTIF.

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