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: Entering Numbers in Excel.

Entering Numbers in Excel

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated July 12, 2014)

When you enter information into a cell in your worksheet, you may wonder exactly how Excel translates what you enter. Excel first tries to convert information into numbers. Numbers are just that—any of the digits (0 through 9), optionally with special characters. The most common of these special characters are the period (taken to be a decimal point), a comma between numbers, a minus sign or plus sign, and a percent sign after the number. If you use the percent sign, Excel assumes you are entering a percentage, and thereby divides the number by 100 for internal storage.

Other special characters can be used, as well. For instance, if you preface your number with a dollar sign, Excel assumes you are entering a currency amount. You can also enter numbers surrounded by parentheses—such as (123)—which is another way of indicating a negative number. The slash character (/) can be used to indicate either a fraction or a date. Finally, you can use the letter E (upper- or lowercase) to indicate that you are entering a number in scientific notation. All of these different numbers and symbols are summarized in the following table:

Symbol Meaning
 If used before a number or after a number followed by the letter E (as in 123E–45), it is taken as a negative sign. If entered between numbers, assumed first to be a date separator, unless the numbers are illegal for a date; in which case it is considered text. If entered after a number, then the entry is assumed to be text.
+ If used before a number or after a number followed by the letter E (as in 123E+45), it is ignored. If entered between or after numbers, it is considered text.
() When completely surrounding a number, assumed to be a negative sign. In all other instances (except in formulas), assumed to be text.
, When followed by at least three digits, assumed to be a hundreds separator. In all other instances, assumed to be text.
/ If entered between numbers, assumed first to be a date separator—provided the numbers can be translated to a valid date. In all other instances, assumed to be text.
$ When preceding digits, assumed to indicate that the number represents currency. In all other instances, assumed to be text.
% When following digits, assumed to indicate that the number represents a percentage. In all other instances, assumed to be text.
.When used once within an entry, assumed to be a decimal point. In all other instances, assumed to be text.
E or e When used once within an entry, assumed to indicate that the number is being entered in scientific notation. The value to the left of the E is normalized to between 1 and 10, and the value to the right is used to represent the power to which the value is raised.

Remember that when you use symbols in your numbers, they must make sense. For instance, you cannot input two decimal points or two percent signs and expect Excel to understand what you are doing. If you try entering such a nonsensical number, chances are Excel will assume you are entering text.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2090) 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: Entering Numbers in Excel.

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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