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

Adding Ampersands to Custom Dictionaries

It appears that Word doesn't allow you to define custom dictionary entries that include ampersands. There are ways you ...

Discover More

Embedding TrueType Fonts

If you need to make sure that the fonts in your document can be used by another person or on a different system, you'll ...

Discover More

Conditional Page Breaks

Need to have your worksheet printout start on a new page every time a value in a column changes? There are a couple of ...

Discover More

Create Custom Apps with VBA! Discover how to extend the capabilities of Office 2013 (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Access) with VBA programming, using it for writing macros, automating Office applications, and creating custom applications. Check out Mastering VBA for Office 2013 today!

More ExcelTips (menu)

Solving Simultaneous Equations

One branch of mathematics allows you to work with what are called "simultaneous equations." Working with this type of ...

Discover More

Determining a Name for a Week Number

You could use Excel to collect data that is useful in your business. For instance, you might use it to collect ...

Discover More

Returning the Smallest Non-Zero Value

In a series of values you may need to know the smallest value that isn't a zero. There is no built-in function to do ...

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 + 4?

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.