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How to Copy a Formula in Excel With Changing Cell References (Quick & Simple)

October 16, 2023 1.2K views

Microsoft Excel is a dynamic tool for professionals, students and everyone across the digital spectrum. Whether one is charting business projections or managing personal expenses, an accurately executed formula can save both time and effort.

However, despite its utility, it is not uncommon for users to find themselves retyping difficult formulas across various cells.

Copying formulas seems like a solution, but there's a catch. Changing cell references can mess up the actual formula in Excel. So, how can you copy without messing up the references?

In this article, we'll explain this process step by step. You'll learn practical ways to copy formulas accurately in Excel.

How to Copy a Formula With Changing Cell References?

When you copy a formula to a different cell, the references within the formula should adjust automatically to reflect the new cell's position. Here's how you can do it:

Method 1. Repeating Formulas Using the Fill Handle

Suppose you have a table in Excel that lists a store's monthly sales and expenses, and you want to calculate the profit for each month. Now you have to find how much profit is yielded monthly after sales and expenses.

Repeating Formulas Using the Fill Handle

Repeating Formulas Using the Fill Handle

Step 1: Click on the cell under the Profit column for January (let's assume this is cell D2).

Step 2: Enter the formula =B2-C2 (This will subtract Expenses for January from Sales).

Repeating Formulas Using the Fill Handle

Repeating Formulas Using the Fill Handle

Step 3: After entering the formula in cell D2, move your cursor to the bottom right corner until it turns into a small square (the fill handle).

Step 4: Drag this square down to fill the cells below with the same formula.

Image: Repeating Formulas Using the Fill Handle

Step 5: As you drag down, Excel uses relative references to adjust the formula for each row. For February (cell D3), the formula will adjust to =B3-C3 and so forth.

 Repeating Formulas Using the Fill Handle

Repeating Formulas Using the Fill Handle

Method 2. Using Show Formulas Feature

Using the "Show Formulas" feature is another method to verify and copy formulas, especially when you want to inspect or share the formulas instead of the results visually.

Step 1: For January's Profit in cell D2, enter the formula =B2-C2.

Step 2: Navigate to the "Formulas" tab on the Excel ribbon.

Image: Repeating Formulas Using Show Formula Feature

Step 3: Click the "Show Formulas" button (or press Ctrl + ~ on your keyboard). This will display formulas in their respective cells instead of the calculation results.

Image: Repeating Formulas Using Show Formula Feature

Step 3: With formulas now visible, you can easily inspect them. Copy the formula in D2.

Step 4: Select the range D3 to D7, and paste the formula. Excel will adjust the formula using relative references for each row.

Step 5: Navigate back to the "Formulas" tab and click on "Show Formulas" again (or press Ctrl + ~) to revert back to displaying the calculation results.

 Repeating Formulas Using Show Formula Feature

Repeating Formulas Using Show Formula Feature

Method 3. Using Shortcut

In this method we will explore how we can quickly copy formulas in Excel with quick keyboard shortcuts. There are many keyboard shortcuts in Excel but we will explore the most trustworthy and convenient shortcuts that fulfill our needs.

Step 1: Enter the formula you want to copy in a cell.

Step 2: Click on the cell with the formula you just entered and use the shortcut key  Ctrl + C to copy the formula.

Step 3: Use the Paste option, which appears after a left mouse click in the drop-down menu or press Ctrl + V.

Step 4: Press and hold the Shift key on your keyboard.

Step 5: While holding Shift, press the Down Arrow or Right Arrow key to select the range of cells where you want to copy the formula. Use the Down Arrow for copying down and Right Arrow for copying to the right.

Step 6: Release the Shift key once the desired range is selected.

Step 7: With the range still selected, use the appropriate shortcut:

  • Press Ctrl + R to copy the formula to the right.

  • Press Ctrl + D to copy the formula down.

Using shortcuts to copy formulas is efficient, especially for larger data sets or when you need to copy formulas frequently. It eliminates the need to manually drag the fill handle with the mouse, which can be slow and exhausting.

Tips and Techniques for Correctly Copying a Formula with Changing Cell References

Here are some tips and tricks to easily copy formulas with changing cell references in Excel:

  1. Use absolute references for cells that don't change, like titles, column headers, sum calculations, or set numbers.

  2. Use the fill handle (a small square at the bottom-right corner of a cell) to copy formulas quickly. Excel will adjust the cell references automatically based on the type of reference you've used.

  3. After clicking on a cell reference in a formula, press the F4 key to cycle through different reference types. This is a quick way to switch between absolute, relative, and mixed references.

  4. If you only want to copy the formula and not the formatting, use the "Paste Special" option and choose "Formulas."

  5. Give names to groups of cells to make formulas easier to read.

  6. Always check your formulas after copying to make sure they work right.

  7. If you want to copy a formula from one sheet to another and retain the reference to the original sheet, use an absolute reference.

Importance of Changing Cell References in Excel

In Excel, changing cell references is crucial for making flexible and dynamic worksheets. When you copy a formula from one cell to another, how the formula behaves depends on the type of cell reference you use. There are three types: absolute, changing, and mixed. Using the right type helps you get desired results without rewriting formulas.

Relative Cell Referencing

In relative cell referencing, the reference to a cell adjusts automatically when you copy the formula from one cell and paste it to another. It's called "relative" because it's relative to its position.

Example: If you have a formula in cell D2 as =B2*C2, and you copy this formula to cell D3, it will automatically change to =B3*C3.

Excel Cell Referencing

Excel Cell Referencing

Absolute Cell Referencing

Absolute cell referencing is the exact opposite of relative referencing. It refers to a cell in a fixed location. Absolute references do not change if you copy the formula to another cell. You use a dollar sign $ to denote an absolute reference.

Example: If you have a formula in cell D2 as =B2*$C$2, and you copy this formula to cell D3, it will become B3*$C$2. Here C2 is absolute reference and is kept constant when formula is dragged to perform calculation on other cells. The following examples explain the process in the actual spreadsheet. We have enabled Show Formula option to help you understand it easily.

Excel Cell Referencing

Excel Cell Referencing

Mixed Cell Referencing

Mixed cell referencing is a combination of both relative and absolute referencing. You can make either the row or the column absolute (fixed), and the other part will be relative.

Example:

=$A1: Here, the column is absolute, and the row is relative. If you copy this formula down a row, it will remain =$A1, but if you copy it to the right, it will change to =$B1.

=A$1: Here, the row is absolute, and the column is relative. If you copy this formula to the right, it will remain =A$1, but if you copy it down a row, it will change to =A$2.

Excel Cell Referencing

Excel Cell Referencing

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FAQs

  1. How to automatically copy data from one sheet to another in Excel using formulas?

  2. Open both sheets in Excel.

  3. Click the cell where you want the data in the second sheet.

Image: Excel Auto Data Copying

  1. Type = and then click the cell with the data in the first sheet.

Image: Excel Auto Data Copying

  1. Press Enter.

  2. Drag the fill handle to copy the formula to other cells if needed.

Image: Excel Auto Data Copying

  1. This will link the cells, so changes in the first sheet will reflect in the second sheet.

Summary

Microsoft Excel is a versatile tool used widely for various tasks, from business projections to personal expense tracking. A common challenge users face is copying formulas across cells without disrupting cell references. This article provides methods to copy formulas accurately with changing cell references, such as using the fill handle, the "Show Formulas" feature, and keyboard shortcuts. Additional tips are given to ensure correct formula copying, emphasising the importance of understanding absolute, relative, and mixed references. The article also introduces WPS Office, a free suite with robust compatibility and features comparable to mainstream office tools. WPS Office offers versatile functionalities making it user-friendly and efficient for various tasks.


15 years of office industry experience, tech lover and copywriter. Follow me for product reviews, comparisons, and recommendations for new apps and software.