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.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (1939) applies to Microsoft Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

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. ...

MORE FROM ALLEN

Selecting an Entire Paragraph

Paragraphs are an elemental building block for documents. This tip explains the different ways you can select entire ...

Discover More

Setting the Print Area

Many people, when they print a worksheet, print the entire thing. You don't have to, however. You can specify that Excel ...

Discover More

Creating an Amortization Schedule

An amortization schedule is a report that shows how the outstanding balance on a loan changes with payments made over ...

Discover More

Save Time and Supercharge Excel! Automate virtually any routine task and save yourself hours, days, maybe even weeks. Then, learn how to make Excel do things you thought were simply impossible! Mastering advanced Excel macros has never been easier. Check out Excel 2010 VBA and Macros today!

More ExcelTips (menu)

Formatting Raw Data

When you get a bunch of raw data into Excel from an external source, it isn't going to be formatted to your liking. The ...

Discover More

Converting Forced Text to Numbers

If you have some numbers stored in cells that are formatted as text, you may get some surprises when you try to use those ...

Discover More

Changing the Font Size in Combo Boxes

When you add a combo box to a worksheet, Excel makes some assumptions about the best font size to use in the control. ...

Discover More
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.

Comments

If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Maximum image size is 6Mpixels. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is one less than 2?

There are currently no comments for this tip. (Be the first to leave your comment—just use the simple form above!)


This Site

Got a version of Excel that uses the menu interface (Excel 97, Excel 2000, Excel 2002, or Excel 2003)? This site is for you! If you use a later version of Excel, visit our ExcelTips site focusing on the ribbon interface.

Newest Tips
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.