Unable to Format Cells

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated May 18, 2024)
This tip applies to Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003


Bill has a large worksheet that he can no longer format cells within. When he right-clicks on a cell and selects Format, the Format Cells dialog box never appears. Likewise, if he chooses Cells from the Format menu, the dialog box never shows up.

This, obviously, is not the way that Excel is supposed to behave. Since the problem occurs with only a single workbook, the problem is most likely not with Excel itself, but with the workbook. There are a few things you can try to track down the problem.

First, make sure that you open the workbook with macros disabled. Hold down the Shift key as you double-click the workbook in Windows Explorer, then indicate that you don't want to enable the macros. If the problem persists, you can rule out it being rooted in a macro. If the problem goes away, then you know you need to examine the macros to see which one is causing the problem.

Second, the file (which Bill mentions is both old and large) could have so many formats defined within it that you can no longer do formatting. This problem has been covered in other issues of ExcelTips, and you can find related information, including a way to free up formats, here:

https://bettersolutions.com/excel/formatting/vba-delete-unused-custom-formats.htm
https://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/office/forum/office_2007-excel/delete-custom-formats/23d6727c-d052-e011-8dfc-68b599b31bf5?db=5

Look for the macro entitled DeleteUnusedCustomNumberFormats; it can help clean up the no-longer-used custom formats.

Another thing to try is to save the worksheet as an HTML file, get out of Excel, get back into the program, and then load the HTML file. Sometimes the "round trip" for a worksheet will clear up some quirks that may be confusing Excel.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (3344) applies to Microsoft Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

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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