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: Dealing with Circular References.

Dealing with Circular References

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated July 20, 2019)

A circular reference is caused by including within a formula a reference to the cell storing the formula. It often occurs when the user selects the range for a function and inadvertently includes the formula location itself. For instance, if you stored the following formula in cell A3, the result is a circular reference:

= A1 + A2 + A3

If you try to enter a circular reference, Excel alerts you to the problem by displaying a dialog box. This dialog box requests you to click OK if the circular reference was a mistake or click Cancel if it was intentional. Unfortunately, many users react without carefully reading the dialog box and press Cancel or press Esc just to get rid of the dialog box. Oops! The formula returns zero and the circular reference remains in your worksheet.

In the status bar, at the bottom of the screen, Excel displays Circular: and the address of the offending formula. Every help text I have seen indicates that the address of the circular reference is listed in the status bar. This is true only if the circular reference is on the current worksheet. The Circular notation is displayed any time a circular reference is present in any open workbook.

If you notice the Circular notation without an accompanying address, you can spend a lot of time working through every sheet of every open workbook until you see the address. There is a faster way to find circular references, regardless of where they are. When a circular reference is in existence, there is a circular reference toolbar available! Simply display the toolbar (using the same steps you use to display any toolbar) and use the drop-down list it contains to find a list of circular references. Click on one of them, and the cell with the reference is selected and displayed immediately.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2163) 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: Dealing with Circular References.

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

Rounding in Results

Rounding is a fact of life when it comes to using formulas in a worksheet. Sometimes that rounding can be a bit ...

Discover More

Creating a Hierarchy Map of Your Hard Drive

Want to see how the directories and subdirectories in your hard drive are organized? It's easy to do using the directions ...

Discover More

Removing a Tile from the Start Screen

The Start screen is a busy place in Windows. If it is too busy for your tastes, you can easily remove any of the tiles it ...

Discover More

Comprehensive VBA Guide Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) is the language used for writing macros in all Office programs. This complete guide shows both professionals and novices how to master VBA in order to customize the entire Office suite for their needs. Check out Mastering VBA for Office 2010 today!

More ExcelTips (menu)

Finding the First Non-Digit in a Text Value

If you have a string of text that is composed of digits and non-digits, you may want to know where the digits stop and ...

Discover More

Adding Ordinal Notation to Dates

Want to add an ordinal suffix to a number, as in 2nd, 3rd, or 4th? Excel doesn't provide a way to do it automatically, ...

Discover More

Character Replacement in Simple Formulas

Do you see some small rectangular boxes appearing in your formula results? It could be because Excel is substituting that ...

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 2 + 9?

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.