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: Displaying Negative Times.

Displaying Negative Times

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated December 24, 2016)

Mike has a worksheet that contains some times. If he subtracts 6:33 from 6:21 he noticed that he doesn't get a negative elapsed time, as in -:12. Instead he gets ############# in the cell. Mike is wondering how he can display the negative time difference properly?

The easiest way to solve this problem is to just change the date system used by the workbook. This may sound goofy, but if you use a 1900 date system (which is the default for Windows versions of Excel), then you get the ############# in the cell. If, instead, you change to the 1904 date system (which is the default for Mac versions of Excel) then you'll see the correct negative elapsed time in your formula.

To change the date system, follow these steps:

  1. Choose Options from the Tools menu. Excel displays the Options dialog box.
  2. Make sure the Calculation tab is selected. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Calculation tab of the Options dialog box.

  4. The 1904 Date System check box controls which dating system is used. If the check box is not selected, then the 1900 dating system is used; if it is selected, then the 1904 system is used.

If you prefer to not change the dating system used in the workbook (perhaps it may mess up some other date formulas you have in the worksheet), then the only thing you can do is to create a text-based version of the time differential using a formula such as the following:

=IF(B2-A2<0, "-" & TEXT(ABS(B2-A2),"hh:mm"), B2-A2)

If the difference between the two time values (in A2 and B2) is negative, then the formula concatenates a text value consisting of the minus sign and the absolute value of the difference between the times.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (3514) 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: Displaying Negative Times.

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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