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: Conditionally Formatting for Multiple Date Comparisons.

Conditionally Formatting for Multiple Date Comparisons

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated October 10, 2020)

Bev is having a problem setting up a conditional format for some cells. What she wants to do is to format the cells so that if they contain a date before today, they will use a bold red font; if they contain a date after today, they will use a bold green font. Bev cannot get both conditions to work properly.

What is probably happening here is a frustrating artifact of the way that Excel parses the conditions you enter. Follow these steps to see what I mean:

  1. Select the range of dates to which you want the conditional format applied.
  2. Choose Conditional Formatting from the Format menu. Excel displays the Conditional Formatting dialog box.
  3. Change the second drop-down list from "between" to "less than."
  4. In the third control enter TODAY().
  5. Click Format, change the formatting for the font to bold red, then close the Format Cells dialog box.
  6. Click Add. Excel adds a second condition to the dialog box.
  7. Change the second drop-down list for Condition 2 from "between" to "greater than."
  8. In the third control for Condition 2 enter TODAY().
  9. Click Format, change the formatting for the font to bold green, then close the Format Cells dialog box.
  10. Click OK.

Regardless of your version, at this point there is a very good chance that all the dates in the range are formatted as bold red, even if they are a date after today. This is obviously wrong, and it occurs because of how Excel treats what you entered in the Conditional Formatting or New Formatting Rule dialog boxes.

Display the Conditional Formatting dialog box again (the same cells you started with should still be selected) and examine what you see. Notice that Excel changed what you entered into the third control for each condition. Instead of appearing as TODAY(), it appears as ="TODAY()". Excel added quotes to what you entered, treating the function name as a string, rather than the actual value for today. Remove the quote marks, but keep the equal sign, then click on OK. The formatting should now be proper; any dates prior to today will be bold red and any after today will be bold green. If the date is today's date, then it will not be formatted in any particular manner.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2780) 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: Conditionally Formatting for Multiple Date Comparisons.

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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