Understanding Number Formatting Codes

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated August 27, 2016)

The most frequently used formatting codes are those that affect straight numbers. Excel provides many of them, as shown here:

Symbol Meaning
General Uses the general display format.
# Indicates a single-digit position. The digit is only displayed if there is a digit in that position.
0 Indicates a single-digit position. If there is no digit in the position, a 0 is displayed.
? Same as the 0 symbol, except results in a space being displayed for insignificant 0s on either side of the decimal point.
. (period) The decimal point.
% Percentage. The number is multiplied by 100 (for the display) and the % sign is added.
, (comma) Thousands separator (if surrounded by digit place holders) or a thousands scalar (if the comma follows all the place holders).
E- E+ e- e+ Displays in scientific format.
$ - + / ( ) : space Displays that character
\ Forces display of the following character
* Repeats the next character to fill out the column width.
_ (underscore) Leaves a space the width of the following character.
"text" Displays the text within the quotes.
@ Text place holder.

To understand better what these codes do, take a look at the information in the following table, which shows several common formats and how they affect numbers.

Category Format Value Displayed As
Number #,##0.00 .01 0.01
  .1 0.10
  1234 1,234.00
  -5678 -5,678.00
Percentage 0.00% .01 1.00%
  .1 10.00%
  1.234 123.40%
  -5.678 -567.80%
Scientific 0.00E+00 .01 1.00E-02
  .1 1.00E-01
  1234 1.23E+03
  -5678 -5.68E+03
Currency $#,##0.00_);[Red]($#,##0.00) .01 $0.01
  .1 $0.10
  1234 $1,234.00
  -5678 ($5,678.00)

No matter which format is used to display numbers, the actual accuracy of the number is not affected. Thus, if a number is displayed using two decimal places, it is still maintained internally to 15 decimal places. All calculations are performed using the more accurate internal representation.

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Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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