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: Relative Worksheet References.

Relative Worksheet References

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated October 5, 2015)

Suppose you have a workbook with three worksheets, Sheet1, Sheet2 and Sheet3. In column A1 of worksheet Sheet2 you have the formula =Sheet1!A1. When you copy that formula from Sheet2 to cell A1 of Sheet3, the formula still references Sheet1. How can that be, though? Why doesn't Excel adjust the sheet reference, like it does the cell references?

Like named ranges, Excel treats worksheet names as absolute. Each worksheet object is independent of all other worksheets in the workbook. When you paste a formula that includes a sheet reference, that sheet reference is left unchanged in what is pasted.

There are a couple of things you can do. One is to simply modify the formula reference after it is pasted so that it references the correct sheet. If you have many of them to change, then you can select all the formulas in the target worksheet (F5 | Special | Formulas) and then use Find and Replace to replace the original worksheet name (Sheet1) with the correct worksheet name (Sheet2).

If your referencing needs are not complex, then you can use a macro approach. For instance, if you want a formula in a particular cell to refer to a cell on the sheet previous to the current sheet, then you can do that by macro rather easily. Consider the following macro:

Function PrevSheet(rCell As Range)
    Application.Volatile
    Dim i As Integer
    i = rCell.Cells(1).Parent.Index
    PrevSheet = Sheets(i - 1).Range(rCell.Address)
End Function

The macro looks at the current worksheet and then figures out which worksheet is before it. The reference is then made for that worksheet. Once you've created the PrevSheet macro, here's one way the function can be used in a cell:

=PrevSheet(A1)

This returns the value of cell A1 from the previous worksheet. If you have Sheet1, Sheet2, and Sheet3, and you use this formula on Sheet3, then it returns the value of Sheet2!A1. If the previous sheet is the first sheet of the workbook or it is not a worksheet, then the function returns a #Value error.

If you later copy this formula to a different sheet (say to Sheet 5), then it pulls up the value relative to its new location, which means it pulls up the value from Sheet4!A1.

You can also include a sheet name and the function will work just fine:

=PrevSheet(Sheet3!A5)

This version will always return Sheet2!A5 since sheet2 is the previous sheet of Sheet3.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (3088) 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: Relative Worksheet 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. ...

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