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: Extracting First and Last Words.

Extracting First and Last Words

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated December 29, 2016)

Reggie has a cell that contains three or more words. (The number of words could vary.) He needs a formula that allows him to extract either the first word of the cell or the last word of the cell. For instance, if the cell contains the phrase "Reggie was here in 2012", then he needs a formula to extract "Reggie" and one to extract "2012".

You can extract both words using formulas. Extracting the first word is relatively straightforward. All you need to do is find the location of the first space in the phrase, then extract whatever is to the left of it. If one presumes that the phrase is in A1, one can use the formula:

=LEFT(A1,FIND(" ",A1)-1)

In principle, to get the last word can be accomplished the same, it is just more complicated to find the last space in the string. A way to do this is to:

  1. Count the number of spaces
  2. Change the last space to a different character (which is not elsewhere in the phrase)
  3. Then find that "different character"
  4. Take the portion of the phrase to the right of that "different character"

The "different character" one can use is the first ASCII character (i.e., char(1)), which is non-printing and very unlikely to be in the phrase. The number of spaces can be found by taking the difference between the length of the phrase with the length of the phrase with no spaces (by using SUBSTITUTE to replace all spaces with the null string):

LEN(A1)-LEN(SUBSTITUTE(A1," ",""))

Then you can substitute char(1) for the last occurrence of the space:

SUBSTITUTE(A1," ",CHAR(1),LEN(A1)-LEN(SUBSTITUTE(A1," ","")))

You can then FIND the location of char(1) in that string:

FIND(CHAR(1),SUBSTITUTE(A1," ",CHAR(1),LEN(A1)-
LEN(SUBSTITUTE(A1," ",""))))

The first character of the last word is 1 character past this:

1+ FIND(CHAR(1),SUBSTITUTE(A1," ",CHAR(1),LEN(A1)-
LEN(SUBSTITUTE(A1," ",""))))

You can then use the MID function to extract the part of the string starting at this location until the end of the string. (You don't have to calculate the exact length. If you pick a number larger than the length of the last word, only the last word will be chosen. Thus, you can start at the location above and extract the number of characters in the string to ensure you have enough.):

=MID(A1,1+FIND(CHAR(1),SUBSTITUTE(A1," ",CHAR(1),
LEN(A1)-LEN(SUBSTITUTE(A1," ","")))),LEN(A1))

You can also, if you prefer, create user-defined functions to grab the words you want. Grabbing the first word is easy:

Function FirstWord(c As String)
    Dim arr

    arr = Split(Trim(c), " ")
    FirstWord = arr(LBound(arr))
End Function

The function uses the Split function to pull apart whatever is in the specified cell, using the second parameter (" ") as the delimiter. Each element in the array (arr) then contains a portion of the original string. In this case what is being returned is the first element (specified by LBound) of the array—the first word.

Since the words from the phrase are being placed in an array, you can use just a slight variation on the function to return the last word:

Function LastWord(c As String)
    Dim arr

    arr = Split(Trim(c), " ")
    LastWord = arr(UBound(arr))
End Function

Note that, essentially, the only real change in the function is the use of UBound instead of LBound. The UBound function specifies the last element of the array. You can use both of these functions in a worksheet in this manner:

=FirstWord(A1)
=LastWord(A1)

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (11984) 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: Extracting First and Last Words.

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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